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Mixed beef and chicken fajita ingredients, served on a hot iron skillet.

A fajita (pronounced /fəˈiːtə/) (Spanish pronunciation: [faˈxita]) is a generic term used in Tex-Mex cuisine[1], referring to grilled meat served on a flour or corn tortilla. Though originally only skirt steak[2], popular meats today also include chicken, pork, shrimp and all cuts of beef. In restaurants, the meat is often cooked with onions and bell peppers. Popular condiments are shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, cheese, and tomato.

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Etymology

In Spanish "faja" means belt or girdle; "fajita" is the diminutive form. In original Tex-Mex culinary parlance, fajitas are a dish with roots in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas made from a specific cut of meat: skirt steak. Considering the appearance of the meat – a strip about 18 inches long and about one inch thick – and its placement in the beef carcass beneath the heart and lungs, fajita (little belt) is a particularly apt nickname. There are only four skirts per beef carcass, yielding about 8 lbs. of meat. The two outside skirts are the diaphragm muscle from the forequarter and the two inside skirts are the secondary flank muscle from the hindquarter. The word fajita is not known to have appeared in print until 1971, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The exact time in which the dish was named fajita is unclear.[2]

History

The first serious study of the history of fajitas was done in 1984 by Homero Recio as part of his graduate work in animal science at Texas A&M. Recio was intrigued by a spike in the retail price of skirt steak, and that sparked his research into the dish that took the once humble skirt steak from throwaway cut to menu star. Recio found anecdotal evidence describing the cut of meat, the cooking style (directly on a campfire or on a grill), and the Spanish nickname going back as far as the 1930s in the ranch lands of South and West Texas. During cattle roundups, beef were butchered regularly to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings such as skirt were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay. Hearty border dishes like barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak) have their roots in this practice. Considering the limited number of skirts per carcass and the fact the meat wasn't available commercially, the fajita tradition remained regional and relatively obscure for many years, probably only familiar to vaqueros, butchers, and their families.[3]

Condiments and tortillas.

Sonny Falcon is believed to have operated the first commercial fajita taco stand at a weeklong outdoor event in Kyle, Texas, in 1969.[3] He also went to rodeos, fairs, and outdoor festivals selling his fajita taco. An Austin reporter christened him "The Fajita King" and Falcon was able to trademark the name. Although it is also widely believed that the first fajita plate sold at retail was in fact in Georgetown, Texas. But there is no way to know with any kind of certainty who did first.

It is also contended that Jon Daniel of Houston, Texas, introduced beef fajitas to Texas in 1972 after a trip to Matamoros, Mexico.[citation needed]

Popularity

The food became popular in restaurants such as Ninfa's and other Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston and San Antonio, Texas. Ninfa's originally called the dish tacos al carbon and later tacos a la Ninfa before using the term fajita. In southern Arizona, the term was unknown except as a cut of meat until the 1990s, when Mexican fast food restaurants started using the word in their marketing. For a good period of time, McDonalds served chicken fajitas on their menu. In many restaurants, the fajita meat is brought to the table sizzling loudly on a metal platter or skillet, with the tortillas and condiments served on the side.

References

External links

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