Fritos, America's Take on a Traditional Mexican Food

National Corn Chip Day is January 29

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By David Hammond

Fritos are "the original corn chip." It says so on the bag. They were certainly the first corn chip I ever had.

Compared to the "chips" you now get with guacamole or other Mexican food, Fritos are lighter and more tender. Fritos corn chips are produced using an entirely different manufacturing technique than the one used to make Mexican chips, which are prepared in many (especially smaller) Mexican restaurants by quartering and frying tortillas.

Made of extruded corn meal, which is then fried and salted, Fritos have been a well-known snack since the 1930s.  In the 60s, the Frito Company merged with the H.W. Lay Company, maker of Lay's potato chips, to become Frito-Lay. When Frito-Lay merged with Pepsi-Cola Company, it became Pepsico, the snack food powerhouse.

Fritos are more than just a snack, however; they have become an ingredient.

The Walking Taco is a street food treat I first had at the annual Maria SS Lauretana Society get-together that used to take place behind North Riverside Plaza. The Walking Taco is a bag of Fritos, ripped open and ladled with chili, maybe some chopped onions and cilantro. Pretty good.

The Walking Taco is sometimes also called a Frito Pie. In the southwestern United States, the Frito Pie can be served in a bag or like nachos: a plate of chips (usually Fritos), covered in ground beef, cheese and other taco accoutrements.

In Mexico City last year, I had a variation on the Walking Taco called Dorilocos, a bag of  Doritos, split the long way and filled with chopped vegetables, cueritos (pickled pork skin), hot sauce, Japanese peanuts, Chamoy (a kind of Mexican ketchup) and gummies (you heard that right). I liked it a lot and extolled the unique flavor profile of Dorilocos on Gastro Obscura [ dorilocos&ie=&oe=], an online compendium of unusual foods.

Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish, just strips of stale tortilla, fried. The name comes from Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztecs. The Aztec, however, would not have had chilaquiles. Although the Aztec had corn tortillas, they did not, before the Spanish arrived, have the oil for frying tortillas or anything else. After the Spanish introduced oil for frying, Mexicans were able to prepare what they called totopos (with the familiar triangular chip shape) and chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles are frequently added to scrambled eggs, dashed with salsa. I recently made a breakfast of eggs and these fried tortilla pieces, and it was really good. I'd heard that you can make the same dish with Fritos, so I gave that a try. Alas, though Fritos are appealing for their gentle tooth and convenience (!), when combined with eggs, they get mushy. Perhaps, for cooking with eggs, Doritos would be better choice than Fritos.

You can celebrate Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, and all the corn chips on January 29th, National Corn Chip Day.

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