When it comes to the Frito Pie, Cincinnatians and New Mexicans share something in common. We always seem to be defending our city’s culinary icon. New Mexican’s say the Frito Pie was invented at the Five and Dime Store, right off the main Plaza in Old Santa Fe, by Teresa Hernandez in the 1960s when it was a Woolworth’s Drug Store. Teresa ladled her mother’s homemade Texas style chili into an opened Frito’s bag and topped it with cheddar cheese. Hmmm – sounds a lot like our Cincinnati threeway – chili, cheddar cheese and a starch – albeit a crunchier starch than our spaghetti noodles.
While the serving may not be as glamorous as a Cincinnati threeway, ladled gloriously over a football shaped bowl, I still have to defend the Frito Pie’s ability to become a food icon in both the southwest, and all over the country. I remember as a kid of the 1980’s a neighbor introducing us to serving Texas style chili over Fritos. And wow, what an epiphany that was in our family’s culinary repitoire!
The Frito Pie comes by several different names, among them, the Frito Boat, or the Walking Taco. Each name, a nod to the ingenious convenience and portability of the dish. And, a variety of other ingredients are used. Some vendors serve with lettuce, sliced jalapenos, and sour cream.
Recently Anthony Bourdain, in his CNN food series “Parts Unknown” called the Frito Pie “warm crap in a bag,” and “colostomy pie.” This is not too different from Cincinnati’s lambast from Deadspin.com , calling our chili a “horrifying diarrhea sludge,” and saying that you’d be better if you were “hit by a car” than have tried Cincinnati chili. Well, those are fighting words to loyal Cincinnati chili enthusiasts. And, what Anthony Bourdain said about the Frito Pie are fighting words to New Mexicans.
But unlike Cincinnati Chili, there is an age old feud over who invented the Frito Pie first. Our chili was undisputedly invented in a strip club on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati in October of 1922. San Antonio, Texas, also holds a claim that they invented the Frito Pie 30 years earlier. And the inventor was reportedly Daisy Dean Doolin, the mother of the creator of Fritos – Charles Elmer Doolin. Kaleta Doolin, Charles’ daughter, says, despite him being called the Thomas Edison of snack foods, he didn’t even invent the Frito. He bought the Frito from a small corn chip company, owned by a Mexican, Gustavo Olguin, who was trying to make money to go back home. She outrighly discredits the Santa Fe creation story and attribute the creation to her grandmother, Daisy, who made the dish in 1937 for a “Cooking with Fritos” campaign.
Ok so maybe the Frito Pie, which is not really a pie, was a corporate invention. But it was the small drug stores, football stadium concession stands, and street festivals that popularized it as a southwest regional food icon, NOT the Frito Lay company. And, regardless of whose claim is true, neither New Mexico nor Texas has anything to be ashamed of, like Cincinnati and our beloved chili.