Sunday, June 27, 2021

Irmas Mexican Restaurant - Original Tex Mex – Visiting Irma Galvan

Irma Galvan at the bar of Irma’s
Mexican Restaurant

"...Donnie and I ubered downtown to Irma’s Mexican Restaurant near Minute Maid Park, where we met friends. We knocked back margaritas..."

Irmas Mexican Restaurant - Original Tex Mex – Visiting Irma Galvan

Recently Donnie and I ubered downtown to Irma’s Mexican Restaurant near Minute Maid Park, where we met friends. We knocked back margaritas, beer and wine, and ate grilled beef fajitas, and enchiladas, and chile rellenos. We ate guacamole. We laughed too much.

I've often heard it's difficult to get decent Tex Mex out of Texas, that the food passing for "true Tex Mex" in other places is hardly authentic, and in some cases down right sorry. It almost makes me feel sorry for people in Ohio or New York who don't get "real" Tex Mex. Irma’s Restaurant labels its cuisine “Original Tex Mex.” For my blog readers unfamiliar with it, the cuisine that came to be called Tex-Mex is an American cuisine that originated with Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent). It has roots in both native Mexican and Spanish foods. Historically, Texas was part of New Spain and later Mexico.

The corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, chili peppers and foul eaten by Mexico's indigenous Aztec and Mayan peoples are in Tex Mex. Since the Spanish brought the cow to the New World, beef, cheese and milk, are in Tex Mex. The Spanish also brought rice to the New World.

Irma's Restaurant Grilled Shrimp
Irma's Restaurant Guacamole

First and foremost, the number one, most significant distinction, is queso. "Queso" means cheese. But Tex Mex queso, better known as chili con queso, is melted cheese, usually mixed with chilis, into which fried tortilla chips are dipped. Queso is Tex Mex. There's no such animal in Mexico.

If you go to a joint and get served flour tortillas, you are being served Tex Mex. Flour tortillas are not found in Mexican food, authentic Mexican tortillas are soft maize-based tortillas. If you are served taco meat seasoned with cumin, you are eating Tex Mex, cumin is not a spice ingredient in Mexican food. The oregano in Mexican food is not used in Tex Mex. Both Tex Mex and Mexican food spread from American border towns into the rest of the country, and both are often called “Mexican” food.

Irma Galvan was born in Brownsville Texas, across the border from Matamoras. Brownsville has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States, which is surely why Irma’s mother brought her children to Houston when Irma was five. Irma began working at a very young age to help feed her siblings. Tragically, Irma’s husband Louis was murdered in 1982. It was necessary to hustle to feed her four children, so she opened a sandwich shop. Then changed the restaurant to Mexican food. The business ultimately became Houston’s celebrated Irma’s Mexican Restaurant.

Irma's Restaurant Chile Relleno and Tamales

My favorite story about Irma tells of her having no money to furnish her Mexican Restaurant. So she brought furniture from home. Today the self-made entrepreneur could easily furnish a restaurant. Politicians, big deal athletes, and celebrities go to Irma’s. The restaurant is quite well known and was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.

The famous Irma spent time at our table. She is 80, and no longer cooks. Her children run the restaurant, with a kitchen staff. Irma does however spend time chatting at the tables. Watching Irma work the tables reminded me of an evening I spent in a historical paella restaurant in Valencia. A tiny white-haired woman whose family founded the restaurant descended the stair case into the dining room, and greeted guests at each table. Then departed, then repeated the stair case ritual, as tables flipped. (Paella entered Spain with the Moors beginning in 711 AD.)

Pics taken from Irma's social media.

Irma's Restaurant Chicken Mole

Irma's Restaurant margarita - The Irmarita
Irma's Restaurant parking lot

Irma Galvan in her kitchen

Irma's Restaurant Tamales

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