Today we honor Ignacio Anaya Garcia on the day of his birth, and we thank him for inventing the appetizer better known by his name’s abbreviation: Nacho.
Anaya, born in 1895, is credited with inventing the tasty dish that’s become a mainstay of Mexican-American restaurants.
What is the origin story for the yummy nacho? Picture it: Piedras Negras, 1943. A group of U.S. military wives entered. The wives came across the border from the Fort Duncan Air Base near Eagle Pass, Texas, for something to eat. Unable to find a chef, Anaya improvised the dish and served it to the happy customers.
Like all origin stories, some facts are in dispute. The newspaper Vanguardia notes that there is a dispute over whether six wives entered or 12, whether they asked to eat or whether they wanted a snack with some beer, or even whether there were no chefs around because it was only 1 in the afternoon or because the restaurant was about to close.
His son, Nacho Jr., recounted their creation to the Sun-Sentinel in 2002:
“My father was maitre d’ and he said ‘Let me go quick and fix something for you.’ He went into the kitchen, picked up tostados, grated some cheese on them — Wisconsin cheese, the round one — and put them under the salamander (a broiler that quickly browns foods). He pulled them out after a couple minutes, all melted, and put on a slice of jalapeno,” he said.
The dish was declared Nacho’s especiales. Some people say the wives bestowed the name in honor of the humble Anaya, while others say the proud Anaya came up with the name himself.
The restaurant added the dish to its menu, and it caught on, even being included in the St Anne’s Cookbook in 1954.
Anaya went on to work at the restaurant Moderno in Piedras Negras, and in 1960 opened up his own Nachos restaurant in the same town. His son looked into patenting the dish that same year, but it was too late.
Anaya didn’t seem to mind, reportedly describing it as “just a snack to keep my customers happy and well-fed…like any other border dish.”
The inventor passed away in 1975, but his legacy lives on. His son works as one of the judges for the International Nacho Festival, hosted in its origin town since 1994. That’s where the world’s largest nacho platter was created, with 50 pounds of dough, 25 pounds of jalapeño peppers and 130 pounds of Wisconsin cheese.