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The Death — and Possible Rebirth — of a Famous Spanish Restaurant

The Death — and Possible Rebirth — of a Famous Spanish Restaurant

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El Racó de Can Fabes, in the Catalan town of Sant Celoni, about 30 miles northeast of Barcelona, was Catalonia's first Michelin three-star restaurant and has long maintained its reputation as one of the finest eating places in Spain — even after the sudden death of its creator, Santi Santamaria, in Singapore in 2011 and the subsequent loss of a Michelin star. Times and tastes change, though, and even the presence in the Can Fabes kitchen of the talented Xavier Pellicer couldn't keep the place filled and operating at its former level. Thus, Santamaria's widow, Ángels, and their daughter, Regina, who have been operating the place, announced recently that it would close down on Aug. 31.

I stopped at Can Fabes last week, driving from the Costa Brava down to Barcelona, for a last lunch. The restaurant was far from empty, though there were some vacant tables; the service was impeccable. Pellicer left several months ago and is reportedly planning to open a rice restaurant in Barceloneta, the old fishermen's quarter in the Catalan capital — but the cooking at Can Fabes, taken over by two longtime veterans of the kitchen, was superb. We had one of Santamaria's signature dishes, shrimp ravioli — the trick being that translucent slices of shrimp form the "pasta," with wild mushrooms as a filling (there was also what I suppose must be described as shrimp carpaccio on a side plate); espardenyes, the remarkable sea slugs eaten only on the Catalan coast, seared to the point of being slightly caramelized and tossed with haricots verts; raw marinated fresh sardines with almonds and salmon caviar; salt cod fillets with piquillo peppers; and a simple roasted dove in a rich red-wine sauce. There were no modernist pyrotechnics, just a lot of pure, intense flavors, capturing the essence of the Catalan countryside and coast.

The official announcement of the restaurant's impending demise noted that "[The story] of Can Fabes will not end on August 31st but will live on in the current and future projects of all the people who have passed through our kitchen and our dining room, and in the memory of the thousands of diners who have always been our reason for existing." As it turns out, according to Regina, it might live on in other ways. "Can Fabes is finished," she told me, "but we have been approached by several people who want to reopen something else here. It would be more casual, certainly, but we would still be involved. We will close as scheduled, and take some time off. But we will probably be back, in one way or another."

New Orleans’ Food Scene Is Rich with Surprising History

Two years ago, New Orleans turned 300, and the storied city that didn’t take Hurricane Katrina sitting down is not only back but better than ever. The Big Easy’s culture of food and drink—in restaurants as well as in home cooking—is deservedly well-renowned. Actually, it’s loved. There’s something else about the cuisine of NOLA that makes it stand above the crowd: the fact that the entire “cuisine” is recognizable—not just a dish or two, which is more commonplace—as being native to a city in the United States. We talked to Liz Williams, founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, native New Orleanian and author of the award-winning book “New Orleans–A Food Biography” about this exceptional cuisine.

New Orleans: A Food Biography, $18.47 on Amazon

Read up on the city's delicious dishes rich in history.

Chowhound: In “New Orleans–A Food Biography,” you’ve created a timeline of events tied to the creation of NOLA’s cuisine that range from 1492 to 2010. Can you share your thoughts with us on which of those events were the most important in terms of shaping the city’s food into what it is today?

LW: Some of the things I think are most important to our food don’t really have to do with an exact moment. One thing I think is very important and it’s often forgotten is the whole Colombian Exchange thing, and that there was already eating here when the French people came and founded the city. A base of foods had already been identified by the people who lived here—they knew and were already cultivating oysters, for example, and they knew and were eating bison and creating smoked bison they were able to keep all year—and that is basically the origin of what the Cajuns call “tasso” today. There were tomatoes, pecans, and the fil é made from sassafras, so we wouldn’t have what we have without absorbing all of that. There was a baseline to start, and so that’s an important cuisine.

Chowhound: So there was a native cuisine and an original food culture that had to do with what grew well in the area and what the people who were living there were eating when the area was colonized that still affects the cuisine today?

LW: That’s right. The city was founded in 1718 by the Le Moyne brothers. They were French in the sense that they came from “New France” (Canada) but they’d never set foot in actual France. But they were considered French in the way that the French considered every place that became a part of France to be France, which is different than the English, who always knew there was an England and there were the colonies. But the French had a different approach: This was not a colony of France, this was an extension of France.

The brothers were trappers, and very familiar with the native peoples of New France, so when they came here they knew they needed to learn about the food directly from the native people. So they weren’t afraid to eat alligator, and all that kind of thing, because it was French alligator. The English, who by contrast wanted to continue their English identity by eating like an English person, had early settlements where everyone literally starved to death because they wouldn’t eat like a native.

Chowhound: So at that point, the newly settled NOLA was considered to actually be France?

LW: Yes, and soon following that (in Paris especially) the French were developing the restaurant. The Grand Cuisine of France was in its earliest stages of development, so the people who were settling here brought the mindset with them of the whole Age of Enlightenment, which in France was being applied to the Arts—one of which for the French was eating and cooking. So that meant that the mindset for developing a cuisine was already in the people who were here.

Chowhound: So NOLA had started developing a new cuisine of its own even before the 1800s?

LW: Yes. Then in 1763, NOLA was ceded to Spain, so we were actually Spanish until 1803, which was the Louisiana Purchase, and so we were Spanish longer than we were French. A lot of people don’t realize that. And the Spanish brought a taste for spices, because the Moors had been in Spain all this time so that Arab influence meant that as part of the Spice Trade they were much more interested in cardamom, as an example, and all the spices, than were the French. So the taste of spices came in but it was an overlay on this French attitude about food, so it was adopted and absorbed. The Spanish also had a taste for rice, so they were bringing the idea of rice and other things as well. They brought covered markets and a control of food, and they began to license taverns and bars in a way that was done by auction, and that’s how they got the money to run the city. Since this wasn’t taxes like income tax, but instead a tax on drinking, they encouraged everyone to drink, because the more you drank, the more taxes they’d have.

Chowhound: That’s an interesting idea. And so the culture of drinking (and the eating that goes alongside the drinking) was actually built into the concept of creating and maintaining a city that would thrive, economically.

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LW: This next point has no exact date but during the 18th century the enslaved Africans were brought to NOLA. People talk about the French—the attitudes were French but the actual cooking was African.

Chowhound: Can you describe which specific cooking techniques were African?

LW: Frying is something that’s very African, it’s not that nobody else fries, but frying as a basic technique of quick cooking—you know it’s so much quicker to fry chicken than to bake it, and all that sort of thing. Also, Africans had the technology to grow rice and they worked in the cane fields because we’re a sugar-producing area. The French who were brought here were predominantly taken from prison—it was mostly petty crime, so there would be pickpockets, and prostitutes, and maybe people from debtors’ prison. Often these people had no skill, so they couldn’t come here to this wilderness and farm, because they didn’t know how! So that technology was brought here by the Africans, and a lot of the foodstuffs that were grown here were grown only because the Africans knew how to do it. The white people who were here didn’t know the technology—they depended on the slaves for their lives.

Chowhound: So far, you’ve told us about the native cuisine, the French influence, and the importance of the Spanish settlers and the African slaves.

LW: Next, two things were happening sort of at the same time. There was the Haitian uprising, which brought a big influx of planters and slaves along with the cooking of the Caribbean, and around the same time was the Louisiana Purchase, which made NOLA (and all of Louisiana) American, which brought in all these Americans who came from other places that were already in existence and that also brought a different taste to the area.

Chowhound: The Louisiana Purchase was in 1803, so already in less than a hundred years, NOLA had experienced the effects of so many cultures.

LW: So–this is also not an event, but something that’s important. And that is that we are a port. From the beginning, when Europeans began to cultivate coffee first in the Caribbean then in Central America then later in even South America all of that coffee came into the port of NOLA. And all kind of things from the rest of the world came in through the port of NOLA. Tropical fruit was coming in from early on, because once you were there, growing coffee, you might as well bring in pineapples and bananas and all that sort of thing.

Then there was the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation after the war gave freedom to enslaved Africans, and that caused an enormous labor shortage and because of that people from the Philippines, China, and Sicily were brought in and brought in all these new food influences. And then from around 1885 to around 1915 there was—because of what was going on in Italy, and in Sicily in particular—tens of thousands of Sicilians came to NOLA, mostly having some kind of relative or some contact already in NOLA. They took over the French Quarter and it was known as Little Palermo. They say that at the time, it was second only to Palermo for the speaking of the Sicilian dialect. It was a huge influx of people and of course that changed the food of NOLA.

Following that, in the 1970s after the fall of Saigon, a huge quantity of people from Vietnam came to NOLA and we have a huge Vietnamese settlement.

And I would say that the last thing that was really significant to our food was Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Chowhound: How did that affect the cuisine? For a while back then, I remember people didn’t believe the cuisine would survive.

LW: I think it caused a renewal of interest in our food and our local cuisine, because there was a diaspora, because you couldn’t be in the city because it was underwater, so people were spread out all over so they were in Memphis, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or wherever they might have a relative and of course they couldn’t eat the food they were looking for—you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of fil é for your gumbo—people couldn’t find coffee and chicory, and they came back feeling that we can’t lose this! We can’t come back as this homogeneous place that’s part of America and just eat frozen pizza and just this kind of thing. So that’s part of it—a kind of food awareness—and also there were many many Mexicans who came into the city to help rebuild, so you end up with taco trucks, and tamales, and refried beans, and all kinds of really good food became available, and then it began becoming oyster tacos, and all this kind of stuff, because that was what was here. Then shortly after the first wave of people from Mexico, people from other Central-American countries were coming to work on the rebuilding of the city. So you had a kind of Latin influx of Latin influences on the food. And that was only in 2005.

Chowhound: There’s so much to the cuisine of NOLA. Is it possible to sum it up in a few words?

LW: In NOLA, you come here as an ethnic group and we just suck you in and we Creolize your food, so it changes your food as well as our food, so it’s a totally different phenomena.

To learn more about the foods of New Orleans, visit SoFab in New Orleans or read “New Orleans – A Food Biography” by Elizabeth W. Williams.

The Bloody San Antonio Origins of Chili Con Carne

The original Tex-Mex staple dates back further than most historians realize.

H ow much do we really know about the history of chili con carne? Once considered outrageously exotic by Anglo diners, chili has since won recognition as the dish that gave rise to Tex-Mex cuisine. Here at home, it is now so thoroughly assimilated that it has reigned for forty years as the official state dish of Texas , much to the ire of those who think it sits on a throne rightfully occupied by barbecue .

Chili’s genesis seems nearly impossible to trace today. W.C Jameson’s Chili From the Southwest: Fixin’s, Flavors, and Folklore offers up eleven competing theories , ranging from a proto-psychedelic, hyper-Catholic, Spanish/Mexican Indian tale about a teleporting, recipe-sharing Blue Nun to another crediting California-bound gold prospectors to others touting the efforts of Texas prison convicts and cowboys.

But Texas food historian Robb Walsh subscribes to the theory that the recipe originated with San Antonio’s Canary Islander population. As a bulwark against possible French expansion in Texas, the Isleños, as they were known, were encouraged to move to San Antonio with the promise of becoming hidalgos, literally “sons of something”—basically, minor Spanish nobles . In 1731, sixteen Canarian families (a total of 56 people) took up residence in the new town, joining a mixed population of clergy, soldiers, and mission Indians. Almost immediately, the Canarians became the city’s business and political elite, and also, according to Walsh, gave us chili.

He believes that the slow-simmered mélange of meat, garlic, chile peppers, wild onions, and cumin betrays Moroccan (specifically, Berber) influences prevalent in the Canary Islands. Although cumin had been on hand in San Antonio spice cabinets before their arrival, Walsh has written that Canarian cooks were very heavy-handed with dried cumin— comino molido— the signature ingredient in what we know today as chili.

True, indigenous Americans had been stewing North American game (venison, turkey, antelope) with native spices for centuries. In the 1730s, a wandering Swiss Jesuit, Philipp Segesser, came across a dish in southern Arizona he described as composed of roasted crushed chile peppers fried in sizzling lard with chunks of meat. In 1568’s The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo wrote that luckless Spaniards who fell into Aztec hands were butchered and stewed in pots along with tomatoes and chile peppers.

“This was not, however, anything like the chili con carne we know today,” noted Charles Ramsdell in his 1959 book San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide , apparently with a straight face. Nope, “chili con-quistadores” (to coin a phrase) was, in his view, more accurately described as “a version of the classic mole poblano, concocted for festive occasions by the Aztecs and by their descendants today, who make it with chicken or turkey.”

So if it wasn’t an old Aztec dish, when did chili first become popular in Texas? When did the Tex meet the Mex? According to the most widely accepted narrative, chili—along with tamales, enchiladas, and a few other Tex-Mex staples—made its first inroads into the Anglo palate within a decade or two after the Civil War, courtesy of San Antonio’s famous “Chili Queens.”

Chili con carne was introduced to America by the “Chili Queens,” women who served food in San Antonio’s Military Plaza as early as the 1860s. Chili stands were also common in Galveston and Houston they were the taco trucks of the 1800s. Tamales with chili was the most common order—beans were often added. Laborers counted on the chili vendors for a quick meal. Adventurous eaters loved them. And the upper classes tried to chase them away or get them shut down.

But what if Walsh’s estimate is actually too conservative—by five decades? We’ve found evidence to suggest just that.

Jameson, the food historian, claims that chili was not publicly available in San Antonio until the 1880s, basing that date on the fact that “a number of literate and observant explorers, soldiers, and others” passed through the city between 1767 and 1882, and none of them mentioned chili or chili con carne by name.

That echoes San Antonio historian Ramsdell’s timeline. He notes that Southern poet and musician Sidney Lanier came to town in 1872 and made no mention of the presence of chili or chili stands in the plazas. Nor did Edward King, author of the 1874 Scribner’s magazine travel story “Glimpses of Texas.”

However, King did say that any and all comers were welcome to take spicy meals that sound suspiciously like chili con carne in private homes in Laredito, a slum adjacent to Military Plaza. “[One] has only to enter and demand supper to be instantly served, for the Mexican has learned to take American curiosity about his cookery to account,” he wrote.

King described the scene within these house-restaurants:

Entering one of these hovels, you will find a long, rough table with wooden benches about it a single candlestick dimly sending its light into the dark recesses of the unceiled [sic] roof, a hard-earth floor on which the fowls are busy bestowing themselves to sleep a few dishes arranged on the table and glasses and coffee-cups beside them. The fat, tawny Mexican materfamilias will place before you various savory compounds, swimming in fiery pepper which biteth [sic] like a serpent and the tortilla, a smoking hot cake, thin as a shaving, and about as eatable, is the substitute for bread.

What, exactly, were those various savory compounds, swimming in venomous peppers, if not chili?

King went on to note that the more adventurous members of San Antonio’s Anglo elite were already devotees of these ad hoc diners, including “Don Juan” Twohig , an Irish-born banker and merchant. San Antonio’s chili stands and parlors (the term may derive from these early house-restaurants) seem to have been the great levelers of San Antonio society, where the more raffish members of the aristocracy mingled with the underworld. (In later years, some of the more famous chili restaurants were located on the fringes of San Antonio’s red light district, but were still patronized by every tier of society.)

Ramsdell cites another example of a luminary visiting San Antonio and not mentioning chili by name in the late 1870s. Harriet Prescott Spofford, of Harper’s magazine, noted in 1877 that while rolls, chocolate, and pastry were available in Military Plaza, you had to go to the sort of “hovels” King described to find “Mexican refreshment” that would make you “malodorous for days.” (If she sampled some of this fare, she did not write about it.)

Chili con carne tables in San Antonio, circa 1880. San Antonio View Co.

And, then, in 1882, according to both Ramsdell and Jameson, we have the jackpot: chili con carne’s first mention in print. It came in a mysterious (and now apparently lost) pamphlet called Gould’s Guide to San Antonio which “mentions chili con carne and its availability in various locations around the plaza,” Jameson writes.

“Those who delight in the Mexican luxuries of tamales, chili con came, and enchiladas, can find them here cooked in the open air in the rear of the tables and served by the lineal descendants of the ancient Aztecs,” Jameson quotes Gould as writing.

Ramsdell argues that the American palate for Mexican food developed in the 1870s, and that it was originally only dished out in houses, not in the plazas. Open-air fare did not come about until the 1880s, he writes, proposing that the city’s first Mexican restaurant did not open until 1889, with one Madame Garza as proprietor. And he argues that the Chili Queens’ reign over the plazas did not commence until the 1890s.

What, then, were all those places King described in the 1870s? Soup kitchens, serving up free meals to hungry Americans for nothing? Jameson notes that in 1862 a rowdy element of the city’s Confederate garrison rioted in Military Plaza and wrecked some food stands. Tamales were mentioned by name in the damage report, as were “stews.” Once again, what were those stews if not chili?

Neither Ramsdell nor Jameson had access to today’s internet—specifically, newspaper databases searchable by keyword and date. Thanks to one such database, the subscription-only, we found a mention of chili con carne that predates Gould’s by a full five years, courtesy of an anonymous reporter visiting San Antonio from Fort Scott, Kansas.

Speaking of hot things, at San Antonio they have a dish called chili con carne. It is of Mexican origin, and is composed of beef, peas, gravy and red pepper. It is awful seductive looking, and gives a fellow the idea that he has a soft thing on hash. They always have enough to go around, for no stranger, no matter how terrific a durned fool he is, ever calls for a second dish. He almost always calls for a big cistern full of water, and you can’t put the water in him fast enough with a steam engine hose.

Again, five years before Gould got around to mentioning chili con carne in San Antonio, we have man from Yankeeland defaming local fare. But chili con carne was already well on its way to conquering the state. According to an 1878 Brenham Weekly Banner article, a man in Denison, way up near the Red River, was “about starting a Mexican restaurant. Chile con carne, tomales [sic], and other ‘hot’ dishes will be served to order.”

By 1881 a similar menu appeared in Abilene, per the Dallas Daily Herald : “The New Abilene Hotel […] is the most comfortable place for drummers [salesmen] and strangers to stop. Good rooms, fine table Mexican tamales, chile-con-carne, spring chickens and fish a specialty.”

Meanwhile, back in San Antonio, in 1882, it was reported that “Captain Bill Tobin is arranging to ship a car load [by then rail had arrived] of chile con carne to this city. It sounds like bringing coals to Newcastle, but it is just the thing for pic-nics [sic] and for travelers, and it is easily prepared for family use.”

(We’ll have more on this later, but Captain Tobin was in the business of canning chili long before that innovation is generally credited with coming into being.)

The Kansan reporter’s mention of chili con carne is the first in the database, but the dish must have existed long before 1877 that’s only the year it came to be known by its current name in print. What’s more, there’s the simple fact that even wayfaring Jayhawkers had discovered it in 1877, whereas it needed no introduction to readers in Brenham or diners in Denison by 1878, and by the time the mysterious Gould mentioned it in 1882 San Antonians already regarded its importation as something akin to exporting tea to China or beer to Bohemia.

So why do so many scholars settle on the 1880s date?

It could be the fact that interstate railroads first linked San Antonio to the outside world around that time . All of a sudden the city was besieged by hordes of outsiders, marveling at the curious, exotic fare that locals had been eating since birth. Before that, the gospel of chili had been forced to travel along stagecoach routes and cattle trails, both of which linked San Antonio to places like Abilene and Denison.

Another factor could be language. Nineteenth-century San Antonio was a trilingual town: English, Spanish, and German were spoken by roughly equal proportions of the population , and each might have had a different name for the spicy meat stew, if they even bothered to call it anything other than dinner or supper. Even in English, the spelling has been known to vary from “chile,” to “chili,” to “chilli,” and even “chilly.” Or even more exotic attempts: In describing San Antonio’s open-air chili scene in 1882, a reporter from Alabama’s Greenville Advocate rendered it as “chille cancarne.” (And also reported that it contained beans. Ay caramba !)

What’s more, some of the earliest Anglo reports we found describe it as a sort of “hash,” “compound,” or “stew.” The first English-language mention of a chili-like dish on record in San Antonio came in 1828 from a Texian colonist named J. C. Clopper, a pioneer of today’s Houston area, who visited the city seven years after Mexican Independence and eight years before the Texas Revolution. “When they [poor families of San Antonio] have to pay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat—this is all stewed together.”

In The Tex-Mex Cookbook, Walsh quotes a San Antonio tax commissioner by the name of Frank Bushick, who claimed in 1927 that the Chili Queens were up in running “away back there when the Spanish Army was camping in Military Plaza [no later than 1821]”—which contradicts Walsh’s own “as early as the 1860s” date.

So maybe chili was being dished out by other names, or names Texan ears either could not comprehend or failed to commit to print. You run into similar problems tracing the history of grackles in Texas: people appear to have called them “jackdaws” up until about 1900. (Jackdaws are a European bird of another species whose name has fallen out of use here.)

Or consider the beignet. Most of us think of them as a confection dating back to the moonlight-and-magnolia, absinthe-drenched days of Creole New Orleans, and they very well might. Only nobody called them by that fancy French name until about 1960, even though Cafe du Monde, the world’s most famous purveyor of beignets, had been open since 1862.

Yes, looking back through the newspaper archives, you can find many, many references to beignets, but all of them refer to pastries quite unlike the square-cut, hole-less doughnuts of French Quarter fame. New Orleans natives just called them “French doughnuts” for the century between the cafe’s opening and the early 1960s, when they were given that fancy, faux-folkloric name. Even today, the packaging for Cafe du Monde’s beignet mix also refers to them as “French doughnuts.” (As does my father-in-law, a Louisiana native whose maternal ancestors once supplied flour to Cafe du Monde.)

It seems that the public, open-air sale of chili con carne in San Antonio goes back much further than is generally believed.

In my digging through the newspaper archives, I came across an 1884 San Antonio Light article claiming that the American exposure to chili and tamales, and the advent of the Chili Queens, came about as long ago as 1813—amid appalling bloodshed and extravagant romance.

Few American cities, and certainly none in Texas, have known as much strife, wholesale terror, and mayhem as San Antonio. The venerable old town’s history is a better fit for the Balkans, revolution-wracked Latin America (which it once was), or Game of Thrones .

Since the first Spaniards ventured into the Payaya Indian village known as Yanaguana in the late seventeenth century, San Antonio has changed hands more than a dozen times, occasionally accompanied by savage, bloody reprisals during regime changes. Every student of Texas history knows about Ben Milam and the 1835 conquest of San Antonio by the Texians, after days of house-to-house fighting, and the merciless slaughter of the Alamo garrison months later. After the Battle of San Jacinto, the Mexican Eagle gave way to the Lone Star, but it wouldn’t be the last time “El Tri” would fly over the city: in 1842, Mexican strike forces took the city twice. In common with the rest of the Southern states, San Antonio also flew a Dixie banner for a half-decade.

Most of that, save for the two post-San Jacinto Mexican incursions, is well known. Far fewer people remember the troubles of 1811 and 1813, even though the latter of those conflicts featured the bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil, and, according to San Antonio tradition, produced the first Chili Queen.

Were it not for the fact that the (partially) American side lost in ignominious fashion, movies would have been made about the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition of 1812 to 1813.

Encouraged by the near-success of the 1811 Casas Revolt in San Antonio, and with covert support from Washington, D.C., Spanish Texan revolutionaries traveled to Louisiana and enlisted Anglo and Louisiana Creole soldiers of fortune in a joint “Republican Army of the North” to sever Texas from Madrid for good. (The Spanish and Anglo contingents had different plans—the former wanted Texas as part of a free Mexico, while the latter preferred annexation to the U.S., or perhaps an independent republic as envisioned by Aaron Burr. It seems both sides agreed to set that matter aside until they had seized Texas.)

Once in Texas, this army recruited an auxiliary of Native American cavalry from several tribes, and met with quick success in East and South Texas, taking Nacogdoches and Goliad with little trouble. A large Royalist force besieged them at Goliad, but the rebels held out, broke out, then counterattacked en route to San Antonio, routing the Spaniards—and capturing Royalist leaders Manuel María del Salcedo, the governor of Texas, and Simon de Herrera, governor of Nuevo Leon. Defenseless San Antonio was next to fall, and on April 1, 1813, the multicultural rebels officially took control of the provincial capital.

Two days later, according to the Light , and corroborated by the Federal Writers Project’s San Antonio: An Authoritative Guide to the City and its Environs (compiled in 1938), the aftermath of an atrocity would eventually give rise to the world’s very first Tex-Mex restaurant.

According to the Light ’s source—“an aged Mexican lady, who all her life has been in this city, and who is familiar with its traditions and legends”—a rebel officer named Antonio Delgado, acting with the tacit permission of rebel leader José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara , marched governors Salcedo and Herrera and a dozen or so other Royalist prisoners toward the coast and what the prisoners believed would be captivity.

They were sadly mistaken. In an incident foreshadowing the Goliad Massacre of 1836, instead they were delivered to a live oak motte on the outskirts of town, where they were taunted and killed—Delgado’s men sharpened their machetes on the soles of their own filthy boots before slitting their throats, according to the 1938 Guide . Delgado had his reasons: according to the Guide , the Royalists had beheaded his father in the failed revolt two years before and left it to rot on a pike in the middle of town for months.

Even if Delgado had a somewhat understandable motive, some of the American mercenaries, including the Anglo contingent’s commander, Samuel Kemper , quit the army and returned to the States in disgust over this grisly treachery committed in their names.

The brutal reprisal, combined with the fact that much of the remaining army was composed of gringos, turned the populace of San Antonio against its remaining occupiers. The sullen locals refused to feed the invaders, hoping they could starve them out of town and bring about a restoration of Spanish rule.

According to both the Light and the Guide , one rebel who remained in San Antonio was a wealthy young Louisiana Creole named Louis St. Clare. During the occupation, he fell in love with sixteen-year-old Jesusita de la Torre (spelled “Jesuita” in the Guide ), who according to the Light , had lost her father, Dr. José de la Torre, in Delgado’s massacre. (The Guide has it that he was dead, but does not give the cause.) The St. Clare–de la Torre romance would eventually leave the Chili Queen tradition as its legacy.

Knowing full well that he and his ilk were loathed by the San Antonians—especially by the de la Torre family and others who had lost sons, husbands, and brothers in Delgado’s purge—St. Clare nevertheless began paying dogged court to Jesusita, attempting to win over her mother in their “miserable jacal [hut] on the outskirts of town.” (Poverty to which they had been reduced after Dr. de la Torre’s demise.)

According to the Light reporter, St. Clare’s humble demeanor won over Señora de la Torre, at least to the point where she allowed him to come in and tell her how sorry he was over the death of Dr. de la Torre and how horrified he had been over Delgado’s treachery. As the Light told it, she intuited that he was a good man, one worthy of her daughter’s hand. In short, she “found the Frenchman not so terrible.”

Meanwhile, both the de la Torres and the rebel army were starving, thanks to the resentment of the locals.

As the Guide put it:

Because of this alliance with the rebels, the Royalist families of San Antonio ostracized the de la Torres, removing the support they had previously provided, and soon the mother and daughter faced starvation. St. Clare suggested that it might be profitable if they opened a restaurant, as the Anglo-Americans were notoriously poor cooks and not a Spaniard of Bexar would provide their food. So the Señora de la Torre attempted to rent a house for this purpose, but was everywhere refused. Thereupon the resourceful St. Clare made a crude table and benches, placed them outdoors upon the plaza, and here the de la Torres served fiery Spanish foods and the frontiersmen brushed up on their table manners. Thus, according to tradition, was born the portable outdoor Mexican restaurant later known as the chile [sic] stand for after St. Clare had married Jesuita and taken her away, other women remembered the success of the eating place under the stars and continued the custom in San Antonio—where, until very recently, chile stands were a feature of the city’s Mexican quarter.

Or, as the Light put it in 1884, this “ style of eating became very popular, and to this day, the open-air restaurants, or tamale stands, have been kept up, through rain and shine, under the many succeeding governments that have held sway in this historic city.”

(The legend of Jesusita didn’t disappear entirely renowned Latina author Josefina Niggli characterized Jesusita as San Antonio’s first Chili Queen in her 1965 play Lightning from the East .)

The Republican Army of the North’s occupation of San Antonio was short-lived. In August, a Royalist force led by General José Joaquín de Arredondo (with a young, admiring lieutenant by the name of Antonio López de Santa Anna in tow) routed the army at the four-hour Battle of Medina and massacred the wounded and prisoners—of the 1,400 rebels, only one hundred survived. It remains the bloodiest battle in Texas history, and second only to the 1900 Hurricane as the state’s deadliest day. (How St. Clare and de la Torre escaped this carnage is lost to history. It is known that of the hundred survivors, ninety were American, of whose number only twenty names are now known .)

In the aftermath, Arredondo launched a merciless scorched-earth campaign against Texas, imprisoning San Antonio’s women and children (and forcing them to grind a huge quota of corn into tortillas daily) and summarily executing men whose loyalty seemed suspect. The years 1813 through 1821 were the darkest in the Alamo City’s history, according to Ramsdell: droughts and pestilence and floods followed Arredondo’s purges, leaving the town “well-nigh deserted.”

Arredondo did not confine his crackdown to San Antonio, which brings another chili origin story into play: the lavandera theory.

Lavanderas—literally, washerwomen—were camp followers of the various armies that marched through Texas in the nineteenth century: Spanish, Texan, Mexican, Confederate, and American. By day they would wash clothes, and by night they would turn their tubs to culinary purposes, stirring up vast pots of chile pepper—and wild marjoram—flavored venison or goat to provision the troops. (Recall how Bushick connection of the Chili Queens to the Spanish army, and also the Jesusita story.)

In 1882, only two years after some historians believe the dish was discovered by Anglos, Captain William G. Tobin of San Antonio, a veteran of the Texas Rangers and the Confederate army, the first commercial canner of chili con carne, and the man behind the “coals-to-Newcastle” importation of chili to San Antonio, successfully won a contract to supply the spicy chow to the U.S. Army. (There seems to be a persistent association in Texas history between chili con carne and warfare.)

Also intriguing: despite the fact that his chili was canned in Chicago, America’s meat-packing capital, Tobin thought it best to use goat meat rather than beef, suggesting that he had tasted such chili from the lavanderas while on the trail with either the Confederates or the Rangers. It could also be that goat was just that much cheaper. But Chicago was never known as “the goat butcher of the world .” At any rate, much more on Tobin, San Antonio’s forgotten Chili King, in another installment.

It’s easy to imagine that the lavanderas and the Chili Queens were one and the same. San Antonio has always been a garrison town—it remains one today, to some degree—and it’s easy to imagine the nineteenth-century Chili Queens packing up their pots and pans and hitting the road when the soldiers, the mainstay of their business in peacetime, marched out to war. Why wouldn’t they?

Attractions and Sites Not to be Missed

Hands down, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, which means “The Holy Family”, should be at the top of your list. Do not miss this incredible work of architecture which is expected to be completed in 2026. (Admission charge goes towards the completion and upkeep of the cathedral.)

Recipe Summary

  • 8 slices bacon
  • 2 heads fresh broccoli, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ½ large red onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ⅛ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, and crumble.

In a large bowl, combine broccoli, cheese, bacon and onion.

Prepare the dressing in a small bowl by whisking together the red wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, salt, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Combine dressing with salad. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Mexican Samurai

Another seductive shooter, the Mexican Samurai is of the gentler sort. In fact, you might want to slow down and sip this one.

To create this shooter, you will want to prepare a fresh sour mix (don't worry, it's easy). Come party time, simply shake that with your favorite tequila and the electric green fruit liqueur called Ty Ku. Strain it, shoot it, and savor the sweetness!

66 Mexican Recipes You'll Be Making On Repeat

Learn how to make all your restaurant favorites at home.

Whether it's Taco Tuesday, Cinco de Mayo, or a Friday night, these recipes are fun enough for a party, and easy enough to make a delish weeknight dinner. Once you've tried all of these, we've got 50 amazing tacos for you to work your way through.

Breakfast doesn't get much better than this.

The avocado cream is a non-negotiable.

Pineapple and pork is always a winning combo.

Highly recommend dunking in cheesecake dip.

This baby is a total crowd-pleaser.

Fresh avo and corn slaw make these sooo tasty.

Cheese shells are all the rage.

We crave these at least once a week.

Ummm, this is basically our two favorite foods (tacos and pizza) combined!

10 Most Famous American Fast Foods

­It's a fast paced world we live in. Thanks to the Internet, information is available in an instant, stocks can be traded in real time with the click of a button and you can buy just about anything you can think of on the spot (with overnight delivery). Digital cameras render crystal clear photographs ready for viewing in a single second. Cell phones put us in touch with anyone we want nearly instantly. Americans simply don't like to wait. The same can be said for how we eat. Since the first fast-food chain, White Castle, opened in 1921, Americans have grown accustomed to getting the food we want in short order.

Fast-food has since spread, with more than 30,000 McDonald's restaurants alone located around the world. McDonald's is the undisputed king of fast-food, serving 52 million people a day in more than 100 countries [source: McDonald's]. That's a lot of Chicken McNuggets. In an article in Rolling Stone magazine in 1998, a survey of American schoolchildren revealed that 96 percent of them could identify Ronald McDonald -- only Santa Claus ranked higher at the time. The same article claimed that McDonald's famous "Golden Arches" had become more widely recognized around the world than the Christian cross [source: Schlosser].

Of course, all this fast-food has led to a problem -- obesity. In 2004, the National Center for Health published a study on obesity in the United States. Between 1962 and 2000, the percentage of obese Americans swelled from 13 percent to 31 percent [source: CDC]. It's probably no coincidence that fast-food restaurants saw tremendous growth as well. The National Bureau for Economic Research published a report in November 2008 that stated that childhood obesity could be cut by as much as 18 percent if fast-food ads were banned [source: Reuter's].

Obese or not, people love their fast-food favorites. That's why we're going to take a look at 10 of the biggest selling fast-food menu items in America on the following pages.

It may feel like a newer franchise, but Subway actually started out in 1965 as a means f­or co-founder Fred DeLuca to help pay for college. Since then, DeLuca has been able to pay for a lot more than tuition fees. In 2006, he was named by Forbes Magazine as number 242 on the list of richest Americans, with a net worth of about $1.5 billion [source: Forbes]. In 2008, Subway celebrated being in business for 43 years. The sandwich chain has grown from a single shop to more than 30,000 franchises in 88 countries around the world [source: Subway].

Subway stands alone as the largest sandwich chain in the world and operates more stores in the United States, Canada and Australia than McDonald's does. How does this kind of growth translate into sub sales? In the United States alone, Subway sells almost 2,800 sandwiches and salads every minute. The company's Web site also touts another interesting fact -- if all the sandwiches made by every Subway store in a year were placed end-to-end, they would wrap around the Earth at least six times. No word on how many millions of gallons of mayonnaise that means.

9: Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich

­Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy is probably best known for two things: He's credited with inventing the boneless chicken sandwich and his restaurant chain is closed on Sunday. It's unthinkable today to imagine a life without the chicken sandwich, but in 1946 it was all about the hamburger. It's also hard to believe that a corporation that has annual sales of more than $2 billion each year would close down one day a week. Cathy's dedication to his Christian faith has kept the Sabbath wide open for his employees since day one.

Originally a shopping-mall-only restaurant, Chick-fil-A expanded to freestanding stores in 1986 and now operates more than 1,300 franchises in 37 states. The menu has branched out somewhat over the years, adding salads, nuggets and wraps, but the restaurant's bread and butter (literally) is still the original chicken sandwich. Its beauty is in its simplicity -- a pressure-fried chicken breast with pickle slices on top, served between a buttered bun [source: Chick-fil-A].

­Pizza may be Italian in origin, but it has become a truly American food because of how popular it is in the United States. In 2007, the total pizza sales in America nearly hit $37 billion and as of July 2008, there were more than 75,000 pizza stores sliding pies into the oven. Independently operated pizzerias make up a slim majority of these totals. The chain Pizza Hut stands as the largest and most successful franchise with almost 14 percent of the total chain sales at a total of $5.1 billion in 2007 [source:].

­The original Pizza Hut was opened on campus at Wichita State University in 1958, but didn't become a franchise until the following year. The company now operates almost 15,000 units in the United States alone. The chain is known for its all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet and for putting some unusual spins on the classic pie -- crusts stuffed with cheese that you're supposed to eat backwards, "The Insider," which is kind of like a pizza sandwich and another concoction called "The P'Zone." Pizza Hut is the number one seller of pizzas in the United States.

­Fried chicken is known as a staple food of the Southern United States, but its appeal is clear all over the world. In 1930, in the throws of the Great Depression, a man named Harland Sanders opened a fried chicken restaurant in the front room of a gas station in Corbin, Ky. The Sanders' Court & Café would grow and expand as the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise and become the most popular chicken restaurant on Earth.

­As of 2008, KFC operates more than 11,000 restaurants in more than 80 countries. Founder Colonel (honorary) Harlan Sanders first began selling his famous "Original Recipe" chicken with its 11 herbs and spices in 1940, and the iconic bucket came along about 17 years later. In 1969, KFC became a publicly traded company, and in 2006, the company sold more than one billion chicken dinners [source: KFC]. Even though KFC was doing well on its own, it joined YUM! Brands, Inc., in 2002 to become part of the largest restaurant group in the world. KFC's partner chains include Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, both listed on this top 10.

If small, square hamburgers are your thing, then you're probably a fan of either Krystal or White Castle. Both fast-food chains are known for the small hamburgers that customers gobble down several at a time. Since White Castle is the original, we'll give them the nod in this case. Walter Anderson and Billy Ingram partnered up in 1921 to create the first fast-food hamburger restaurant, selling their signature "Slyders" for five cents each. The restaurant's name matches the look -- each White Castle restaurant looks like a white castle.

In 1949, White Castle made a change that would end up being its legacy. It made five holes in each square patty and cooked the meat on top of a bed of diced onions. The burger never makes contact with the griddle and is cooked by the steaming onion. The holes allow for a faster, more even cook. The buns are placed on top of the meat to soak up extra flavor as well. Add a slice of dill pickle and you have an American institution -- the Slyder.

Even though White Castle only has 382 stores as of 2009, it sells 500,000,000 Slyders a year and has served 16 billion since 1949. It was the first to reach one million burgers sold and then the first to reach one billion [source: White Castle].

­Not many fast-food restaurant founders have been as visible as Wendy's Dave Thomas was. In a bold marketing move, Thomas became the face of the franchise on TV commercials in 1989, and continued doing so until he passed away in 2002. The first Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant was opened by Thomas and co-founder John Schuessler in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. It was important for Dave from the beginning that Wendy's be a cut above its competitors in terms of food quality. If you look closely at the famous logo, you'll see the words "Quality is our Recipe" above the red-haired pigtails the company's mascot "Wendy" wears.

You won't find a heat lamp with a rack of burgers sitting beneath it at a Wendy's. Each "single" hamburger is made-to-order. The classic burger is a 4-ou­nce, square patty served on a bun with your choice of toppings -- lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and whatever condiment you fancy. Wendy's ranks third on the burger chain list behind Burger King and McDonald's, with more than 6,500 locations worldwide. In 2006, Wendy's had total revenues of almost $2.5 billion and employed 57,000 people [source: Wendy's].

The chain is also famous for its chocolate version of the milkshake, the Frosty. It was one of the original five menu items and remains a top seller. Dave Thomas wanted to make a milkshake so thick you had to eat it with a spoon and he was pretty successful -- Wendy's sells about 300 million each year [source: Hentges].

4: Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich

­Each category of fast-food chain restaurant has its "best in show." There can be only one best selling sub sandwich, one best burger, one best taco. In the middle of the hamburger craze in 1964, Arby's found its niche in the land of roast beef. The Raffel brothers opened the first Arby's Roast Beef Restaurants in Boardman, Ohio. Beef was a big hit with the burger chains, so the Raffels decide that instead of grinding it up, they'd slow roast it and slice it thin. The name Arby's comes from spelling out the initials R.B. -- for Raffel brothers, not "roast beef."

Arby's operates more than 3,500 restaurants in the United States and Canada, and the chain's most popular sandwich is still the signature roast beef sandwich. The beef is sliced fresh for each sandwich and customers can top it themselves with the famous Arby's and Horsey sauces. In 2008, Arby's purchased Wendy's for $2.34 billion, forming the third largest fast-food company in the world.

­Just like Arby's cornered the roast beef market, Taco Bell has carved out a spot as the number one Mexican fast-food restaurant chain. If you've ever stopped and wondered just what the heck a "taco bell" is, you'll be glad to know that a man named Glen Bell started the franchise and named it after himself. He started the chain in 1962 in California at a time when Mexican food was pretty out of the ordinary in America. The first franchis­e opened in 1964 and now, the company boasts more than 5,800 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Guam, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Asia, Europe and the Philippines [source: Taco Bell].

­The popular chain serves about 2 billion customers a year and perhaps not coincidentally, also sells roughly 2 billion of its signature tacos. The franchise plows through 3.8 billion tortillas, 62 million pounds of pinto beans, 106 million pounds of cheese and 295 million pounds of ground beef a year [source: Taco Bell]. It made revenues of $6.8 billion in 2005, part of that coming from the million burritos it sells each year. Add in quesadillas, nachos and some signature spins on Mexican classics, like double-decker tacos (a soft flour tortilla wrapped around a hard shell corn tortilla taco) and odd items like the "Crunchwrap Supreme" and you've got a gut pleasing late-night drive-thru destination.

­Burger King isn't quite the king -- that distinction resides with McDonald's. But BK has a solid grip on the number two spot, with 11,200 franchises. You can find Burger King franchises in the United States and 69 other countries around the world. Burger loving entrepreneurs James McLamore and David Edgerton started BK in Miami, Fla., in 1954. The Whopper became their signature burger in 1957. One thing that distinguishes Burger King from its competitors is the fact that the burgers are flame broiled instead of cooked on a griddle. The idea was to give the meat that home-grilled taste.

­The Whopper is a one-quarter pound beef patty between a sesame seed bun with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and sliced onion. Of course, it is Burger King, so you can always "have it your way." This is the advertising slogan from 1974 that the chain is still most well-known for. The BK Web site claims that there are actually 221,184 possible ways you can have it your way. Even though it's a distant second place to McDonald's, total sales of all the Burger Kings are still massive BK restaurants in 2007 surpassed the $13 billion mark [source: Burger King].

­There can be only one. One top dog, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. One that transcends the mundaneness of a mere fast-food chain to become something else altogether -- the s­ymbol of a country, the face of an industry: McDonald's. If you're American, the name itself conjures up an embarrassingly high number of familiar images and memories.

The McDonald brothers started the franchise as a hot dog stand in 1937 and changed things up in 1948 by making the switch to burgers and fries made using a speedy and efficient assembly line system. Things took a fortuitous turn when the McDonald brothers met a milkshake machine salesman named Ray Kroc. Kroc was impressed with the operation and asked to be included as a franchise agent, splitting profits with the brothers for growing the chain. Kroc opened the first franchise in 1955 in Des Plaines, Ill., and the rest is fast-food history. He bought the brothers out for $2.7 million in 1961, and the franchise has grown to operate more than 31,000 stores in over 100 countries [source: McDonald's].

The Big Mac is the most popular fast-food item on Earth. The famous jingle from the 1975 TV commercial taught Americans the ingredients for the Big Mac -- two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun. In 2004, Mickey D's celebrated the fortieth birthday of the iconic burger. The company sells an astonishing 560 million Big Macs each year, even though they're only available in 13,700 of the franchises [source: Friedman]. People love the Big Mac, some so much that it's become almost an obsession. A man in Fond Du Lac, Wis., claimed he ate two Big Macs a day, every day since 1972. That makes 21,292 Big Macs as of August 2004. And, how many trips to the cardiologist?

Behind the Scenes

Given all the high-tech accouterments and lack of visible personnel, Horn & Hardart customers could be forgiven for thinking that their food had been prepared and handled by robots. Of course, that wasn't the case, and an argument can be made that automats succeeded at the expense of their hard-working employees. The managers of these restaurants still had to hire human beings to cook, convey food to the vending machines, and wash the silverware and dishes—but since all this activity went on behind the scenes, they got away with paying below-par wages and forcing employees to work overtime. In August of 1937, the AFL-CIO picketed Horn & Hardarts across the city, protesting the chain's unfair labor practices.

In its heyday, Horn & Hardart succeeded partly because its eponymous founders refused to rest on their laurels. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart ordered any food uneaten at the end of the day to be delivered to cut-price, "day-old" outlets, and also circulated a hefty, leather-bound rule book that instructed employees on the proper cooking and handling of hundreds of menu items. Horn and Hardart (the founders, not the restaurant) also constantly tinkered with their formula, assembling as often as possible at a "sample table" where they and their chief executives voted thumbs up or thumbs down on new menu items.

Best Drinks

Port wine – Portugal produces some great wines but Port wine, its most famous dessert wine, is arguably its best wine.

Vinho Verde – A light, frizzy, and low-alcohol wine, Vinho Verde is a crowd-pleaser, particularly during the warmer summer months.

Medronho – Made from Medronho berries, aguardente de medronho is a clear spirit whose potency ranges from 40% to around 80% (depending on whether you’re buying it from the supermarket or your neighbour). It looks like vodka, but it’s much more drinkable.

Is Portuguese food spicy?

No, not really. Piri-piri chicken can be spicy, although it usually isn’t that hot, but, generally, chilli isn’t used that much in Portuguese cookery.

Is Portuguese food vegetarian-friendly?

Begin a vegetarian in Portugal is challenging. It’s very hard to find a traditional Portuguese dish that doesn’t contain meat or fish, but vegetarianism is growing in popularity in Portugal. You’ll find plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, and many restaurants there will have at least one vegetarian option.

In really rural parts of Portugal, however, vegetarianism and veganism isn’t really understood, so be prepared for this.

Is food expensive in Portugal?

Eating out in Portugal is incredibly affordable, particularly outside of Lisbon and particularly at lunchtime. Avoid the tourist traps and the more modern restaurants, and you should be able to find restaurants serving dishes that range from €5-10 per dish in just about any part of Portugal.

What’s the national dish of Portugal?

Bacalhau is Portugal’s national dish. There are apparently 365 different ways of cooking bacalhau, and it’s recommended that you try at least one version while you’re in Portugal.

Is Portuguese food healthy?

It is possible to eat healthily in Portugal, but be aware that Portuguese cuisine is typically high in salt, carbs, and olive oil, while at the same time being low in vegetables. Obviously all of the cakes and desserts aren’t particularly healthy either.

To eat healthily in Portugal opt for dishes like vegetable soup and grilled fish.


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