Frito Chili Pie, Glorious Texas, Saveur 100, And The Mesoamerican Civilization Glory Of Nixtamalization

One of my points of pride is that a majority of everything (outside restaurants) that my boys eat is either natural or organic, or some iteration…


I knew from the weather reports that this weekend was going to be really cold, so I introduced my boys to a dish that I knew well from my 18 months or so of living in Texas in elementary school, and every visit to a Friday night football game concession stand then and since: Frito chili pie.

Well, actually there are two Friday night football game foods no one should live without, one being a giant cold pickle, and the other a snack-size bag of Fritos slit down the side with chili and cheese poured inside.  Thus, Frito chili pie.

Those two foods apply for drive-in theater snacks, too.

I miss Texas.  I miss tumbleweeds, jackrabbits, armadillos, horned toads, having your name stamped on a belt, the XIT Rodeo and Boys Ranch Rodeo and other rodeos every weekend, brisket, boots, Whataburger, really good Dairy Queens, people pulling to the side so others can pass, 4-H, real Tex-Mex and real Mex, Cadillac Ranch, The Big Texan, huge football game corsages, Friday night football, real country fried steak, horseback riding in canyons, mesas, having half a cow in your freezer, living in a county shaped like a square, knowing not to ever put your cowboy hat on your bed, shirts with pearlized snaps, having a clock or cutting board in the shape of Texas, salad wagon, sand burrs, sunflowers, and Frito Chili Pie.

(This is me when I was homecoming representative for my 5th grade at my school in Texas.  With my super-cool boyfriend who later came to visit me in college.  He had turned into a real cowboy.)
Ginger and Steve Duke and Dutchess Sunray Elementary 1982

Anyway, I picked up Fritos at Publix and tossed my soapbox to the wind (does anyone really like anyone else on their haughty soapbox? Uh, no.).  And oh was it good.

Frito Chili Pie

You can make this either in the bag, or in a bowl at home —

first layer Fritos
second layer chili (I just take hamburger meat cooked with onions, add spices, add tomato (sometimes, not always), add masa to thicken it…whatever your chili recipe is — just fine, although I am in the no-beans-in-chili camp — you too?)
third layer freshly grated cheese
you can add anything else you like — onions, scallions, sour cream, extra jalapenos…

Oh yes, yes, yes, it it was so good and so satisfying and so luscious.  Perfect.

FCP even made the latest Saveur 100 list.  And Daniel Bouloud liked it so much at the Super Bowl that he’s bringing bags of Fritos back home to France with him.  New York Magazine did a slideshow for the nine best FCPs there.

In last month’s Smithsonian, there was an article mentioning Frito chili pie, with this lofty foundation:

As much scorn and derision as today’s leading nutritional gurus heap onto processed foods, it’s worth noting that Fritos arrived here by way of a Mesoamerican staple and their invention and flavor owes a debt to one of the greatest food processing technologies ever invented: nixtamalization. The 3,000-year-old tradition adding calcium hydroxide—wood ash or lime—so greatly enriches the available amino acids in masa corn that Sophie Coe writes in America’s First Cuisines that the process underlies “the rise of Mesoamerican civilization.” Lacking this technology, early Europeans and Americans (who considered corn fit for slaves and swine) learned that eating a diet exclusively based on unprocessed corn led to pellagra…

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