(NEXSTAR) – While they’re not only seen in Texas, the mere concept of tortilla chips and salsa may feel particularly Tex-Mex for some Texans. In fact, did you know chips and salsa have been the official state snack of Texas since 2003?
That’s right, the 78th Texas legislature designated the combination among Texas’ signature symbols, citing the food’s impact on the state’s economy and culture.
“The primary ingredients of chips and salsa have nourished the people of this land for centuries; corn, peppers, and tomatoes all originated in the Western Hemisphere and were being cultivated by Native Americans along the Rio Grande when the Spaniards, who introduced onions to the New World, arrived in Texas,” the legislature wrote in a resolution, in part.
Along with chips and salsa, the Houston Chronicle explains the Texas legislature approved peach cobbler (official Texas state cobbler), Texas Gulf Shrimp (official state crustacean) and chili (official state dish) as other official Texas symbols.
In its resolution, the 78th Legislature also explained that chips and salsa have “universal appeal” and have come to be “embraced by Texans of every ethnic background,” calling the snack-time favorite a “part of our shared cultural identity.”
Twenty years later, the staple remains a classic. We dare you to name a more iconic duo.
Free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants — endangered?
While almost everyone can agree the snack is great, their cost at restaurants is becoming more of a subject of debate. Free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants may just be what most Texans are accustomed to — but is it a tradition that could vanish due to rising costs?
It would be impossible to know the chips-and-salsa policy at every Mexican restaurant in Texas, but some data indicates that consumers are noticing a trend over the past year.
Last summer, Mexico reported a 21-year inflationary high, with corn tortilla prices in the country surging from 19 pesos to 26 pesos ($1.31) in just one year, Bloomberg explains. Corn tortillas were directly linked to a variety of factors, including drought and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prices also grew 1.56% in just two weeks, the outlet reported.
This poses a problem for exports of white corn from Mexico to the U.S., and in January, Mexico announced a temporary 50% tariff on white corn, as reported by Reuters. Meanwhile, U.S.-grown corn crops are beholden to unpredictable factors, like unseasonable cold and late-start planting seasons. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports 2022 corn production was down 9% from 2021.
Several Reddit threads in the past year have touched on what appears to be an increasingly common theme about chips at restaurants, including one titled, “Mexican restaurants should ALWAYS include free chips and salsa,” posted in the /unpopularopinion Subreddit. (NOTE: the opinion was actually not that unpopular.)
“Sounds like you’re from Texas, me too … I moved away and found most places don’t have that food custom,” replied one user. “But yah I agree even now that I’ve lived in like 6 states I would still never go to a Mexican place a second time if it didn’t have chips and salsa on the table.”
Meanwhile, an Austin writer weighed in on the phenomenon back in March, relating chips and salsa to recent changes on Twitter.
“Charging for verification on Twitter is like charging for chips and salsa at a Tex-Mex restaurant. If you really live in Texas, you know what that means,” Antonio Ruiz-Camacho quipped.
But Texas Monthly‘s David Courtney (aka The Texanist) argued that he doesn’t begrudge Mexican restaurants who began charging for the formerly free fare, especially given the difficulties restaurants faced since the pandemic began.
“Despite believing in his heart of hearts that chips and salsa ought to come without a surcharge, the Texanist certainly wants his — and yours and everybody’s — local Mexican joint to stay in the business of serving up those delicious enchiladas.”
There is some good news, if you’re worried: The USDA estimates corn production through 2032-33 to reach or exceed record levels.