A few hundred miles northwest of Houston there is a modern-day Châlons being fought that makes Thursday evening’s GOP internecine brawl look like a state dinner. This war isn’t over a petty issue like healthcare, immigration, or the future of the Supreme Court, but rather, one of crucial cultural and culinary vitality: the origin of breakfast tacos.
The rift was loosed last week by a well-meaning New York writer who on a visit to Texas made the grievous error of ever-so-slightly associating the rise of the breakfast staple to the City of Austin. Among its charges: Breakfast tacos are “the city’s beloved morning dish” and “Austin is the birthplace of the phrase breakfast taco.”
Horrible sin? Well, to many in Texas, this is akin to lauding New Jersey for its bagel culture and then in the same breath, crediting Peter Minuit with the discovery of Manhattan.
The truth is that like almost anything culinary, particularly in the United States, its origins are disputed. The glorious enfolding of egg and potato into a flour or corn tortilla was popular elsewhere long before Austin became one of America’s trendiest destinations and fast-growing cities.
Corpus Christi, and more notably, San Antonio, both of which have far more credible claims to the breakfast, grew quickly enraged at the slight. For the writer’s crime of “taco negligence,” a hyperbolic Change.org petition, written from the Alamo City and now signed by more than 1,600 people, demanded his immediate exile from Texas or that he turn himself over for “mandatory reeducation and rehabilitation” in the City of San Antonio.
Here are two less-charged sample paragraphs from the several hundred word screed:
It is laughable to posit that a city whose people are often unaware that Texas was not populated by Anglo Saxons since the dawn of time, and just as often view Mexican Americans as undesirables to be given a wide berth when encountered and/or quietly swept out of sight before the neighbors see, has any claim to authority over the subject of anything taco-related.
More absurd is the notion that “breakfast taco culture” was either codified or normalized by a generation of birkenstock-clad tech-jockeys and university incubatees majoring in Phish and Social Safety Net Surfing, and not by the laborers who spent the last century waking up at 5 a.m., breaking their fast on huevos con papas outside a truck, to build the aforementioned demographic’s luxury condos.
But if you think this controversy didn’t quickly escalate into a full-blown diplomatic crisis, you don’t know Texas well.
The scene made the most inflamed showdowns at Turtle Bay look like Hands Across America. A media delegate from San Antonio wrote “10 reasons to hate Austin beyond their breakfast-taco arrogance,” in which he charged (among many things) that Austin’s claim to Live Music Capital was “a lie.”
A representative from the Austin American-Statesman lobbied for peace, but only after describing San Antonio’s aesthetic as “London circa World War II but with more crumbling buildings.”
Gustavo Arellano, one of America’s foremost taco experts, walked himself into the fray to mediate:
In this case, he’s right to deem Austin a nexus for breakfast taco culture, as is my colleague-mentor-compa Robb Walsh in saying that Austin popularized breakfast tacos in this century thanks to South by Southwest (Sorry, San Anto, but hipsters haven’t descended on ustedes yet, and y’all be happy that hasn’t happened).
He continues, “But the point remains: Breakfast tacos were already a known commodity long before Austin officially decided to go breakfast-taco crazy,” and then ends with a swoosh. “San Antonio never had to brag about its breakfast taco love—folks there just call it ‘breakfast.’”
Arellano was then attacked by a bevy of commenters from across Mexico.