Welcome to Nacho Week! Through Super Bowl Sunday, we’ll be sharing recipes, stories, and photos of our favorite food. Find more Nacho Week content here.
Both of these cultural heavyweights have mentioned the classic snack in the past year, which may not seem significant until you consider how much the nacho platter has been marginalized in America for the past decade or so. While classic comfort foods like the grilled cheese, sliders, and Tater Tots became standards on menus across the country, the nacho has started to look like the forgotten bar food—not quite as maligned as the potato skin, but still very much an outlier.
But if recent pop culture is any indication, 2013 may be a banner year for the loaded corn chip. Let’s consider some topical examples of the great American nacho platter’s struggle to edge its way back into our hearts.
Aziz Ansari, comedy’s most hilarious food obsessive, championed the dish on Parks & Recreation, when his character, Tom Haverford explained that he and his buddy have a “Nacho Average Podcast where we rate different kinds of nachos.” The February issue of Bon Appetit sports an unprecedented (as far as we know) nacho cover line to hype its “gourmet nachos,” and editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport even went on the Today show to make a tray of them with Al Roker and Matt Lauer. Even the New York Times decided it was time to acknowledge the game-day staple, honoring it with a Melissa Clark video devoted to short-rib nachos. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, domestic goddess Martha Stewart recently dropped a pretty interesting nacho recipe, presenting a hybrid between the pile and individual-chip techniques by crafting mini constellations of chips with toppings. Our first thought was, “Keep your OCD home-making tendencies from ’round my nachos, Martha!”—but hey, at least she’s making them.
All of these examples suggest that the epicurean set is rediscovering, reworking, and finally giving credence to a beloved dish. And why the hell not? Nachos fit perfectly into everything that’s en vogue in dining these days: communal eating, upgraded comfort food, and the celebration of American vernacular cooking. Chefs today are embracing what real eaters want and love, but they are giving favored items a twist and using them as a conduit for their own culinary ideas. At the end of the day, nachos are a far more exciting medium than mozzarella sticks or gourmet popcorn could ever hope to be.
It’s exciting to see a dish we love so much get some shine. But needless to say, those who have been loyal to nachos all along should be careful what they wish for. An embrace by the mainstream may bring along unexpected consequences—do we really need Morimoto nachos with “tempura-battered baby shrimp, wasabi-ginger guacamole and an herbaceous ranch dressing,” as Time Out New York recently described a new dish at Tribeca Canvas? Maybe not. But if nachos get hot, there’ll be more fusion-y nonsense where that came from.
To be sure, the potential ascent of nachos into the “food world” brings with it a laundry list of X factors about how they will be molded, co-opted, and reimagined. But better to march into the unknown than allow an American classic to slide into obscurity. Like the hamburger, nachos flow easily through culinary space, connecting traditions and inspiring new models of thinking. They capture the zeitgeist—a belief that good dishes don’t need to emerge from ivory tower kitchens, and that authenticity in food isn’t limited to exact replicas of regional cuisine.