[Ed. note: For this week's Sandwich Monday, a dispatch from listener MacKenzie Fegan of Brooklyn, NY. While not technically a sandwich, Frito pie does not fit into any known food category, so it's as much a sandwich as anything else. If you'd like to submit a Sandwich Monday, send us a pitch.]
A mystery wrapped in an enigma nestled in an empty Frito bag.
Tex-Mex is a culinary mutant, a fusion of two disparate components that were never meant to intermingle – like a jackalope, but cheesier. On the one hand, you have the ancient and complex cuisine of Mexico, utilizing ingredients such as ancho chiles, huitlacoche, and tomatillos. On the other, you have the influence of the American Midwest, with its bounty of mini marshmallows, Velveeta, and Jell-O. In the great state of Texas, these two culinary traditions met, settled down, and had babies.
On a recent trip to San Antonio from my home in Brooklyn, I went looking for what is possibly the most delicious of these babies: Frito pie. I ordered one from a teenager working a hot dog stand. He grabbed a bag of Fritos, sized me up, and paused.
“I don’t think I can make it for you, actually. I just ran out of trays.”
I looked at him.
“Unless you want me to make it right in the Frito bag.”
What did he take me for, a Tex-Mex dilettante? OF COURSE I WANT YOU TO MAKE IT IN THE BAG. I looked him in the eye.
He ripped open the bag. In went one ladle of fluorescent orange cheese sauce. Then another. Those were followed by two scoops of chili – runny, without chunks of recognizable food items. I planned on eating my pie back in my hotel room, so I asked him to seal up the top with aluminum foil. The woman behind me in line, one child on her hip, the other threatening to dart into traffic, nodded in my direction.
“You like ‘em soggy? Me too.”
I was in the club. I ordered a Big Red to wash down the Frito pie. If you’re not familiar, Big Red is a soda indigenous to Texas. Its packaging proclaims it “America’s favorite red-flavored soda,” or something to that effect. It tastes like cherry Tylenol and the end of your life.
Back in my hotel room, I turned the lights down low, swaddled myself in a towel – since napkins clearly weren’t going to cut it – and found The Mighty Ducks on TV. I fished out the cheese and chili-coated corn chips with my spork, savoring them slowly, and silently praised the state of Texas.
Next time you catch yourself thinking, “Hey, these corn chips just don’t pack enough calories,” or “Know what I love? America,” I’d recommend popping open a bag of Fritos and fixin’ up some pie.