August 18 is National Fajita Day, now is as good a time as any to enjoy this Tex-Mex favorite.
The definition of “fajita” is grilled meat served on a flour or corn tortilla. The meat – which could be chicken, pork or beef – is often cooked with peppers and onions, and joined by lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo, beans and other condiments. It’s become a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants throughout the country.
Here’s a look at the holiday.
1. National Fajita Day Was Created by the On The Border Restaurant
“National Fajita Day” is a corporate creation courtesy of On The Border, a restaurant chain established in Dallas in 1982. Today, the chain has over 160 locations in the U.S. and two in Puerto Rico. The chain also has restaurants in South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On The Border created the holiday last year. Their deal for the day is a plate of fajitas, with queso and two sopadillas for $9.99.
Although the holiday was created by its rival, Chili’s is also participating, selling Chicken fajitas for $9.99 if you tell your server about the deal.
2. The Term ‘Fajita’ Translates to ‘Little Skirt’ or ‘Little Band’
As The Austin Chronicle explained in 2005, the term “fajita” is the diminutive form of the Spanish word “faja” for belt. So, it means “little belt” or “little band.” In original Tex-Mex cuisine, the term just referred to a dish made from the skirt steak cut of meat.
Serious Eats suggests that the best fajitas have “ultra-juicy” meat “with an overwhelming, almost buttery beefiness—this is skirt steak, after all, the butteriest of all beef—accented by a marinade that is slightly sweet, very savory, and packed with lime and chili.”
The site also suggests that the meat has to be tender. “The skirt is king. It’s more buttery, more beefy, and just plain more tasty than its counterparts,” Serious Eats notes.
3. Evidence of the Fajita Cooking Styley Dates Back to the 1930s
There’s anecdotal evidence that using the skirt steak, the familiar fajita cooking style and the Spanish nickname from the 1930s, The Austin Chronicle reports. Texas A&M graduate student Homero Recio found during research in 1984 that Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) were given throwaway cuts of beef for pay. These cuts were integrated into their cuisine, leading to the rise of fajitas and other dishes like barbacoa de cabeza and menudo.
As the Chronicle notes, the fajita became popular commercially in 1969 when Austin meat market manager Sonny Falcon opened the first commercial fajita taco concession stand. Fajitas were also added to the Otilia Garza’s Round-Up Restaurant menu in Pharr, Texas.
A 1993 Texas Monthly piece noted that Garza played a major role in popularizing fajitas. She started giving them away to customers she liked for a year. She soon realized that the dish was becoming too popular to give away and added it to her menu. Garza is also credited with adding condiments to the dish.
4. Fajitas Became So Popular in the Early 1990s That McDonald’s Even Tried It
The popularity of fajitas continued to skyrocket in the decades since it was introduced in Texas restaurants. In the early 1990s, it was so popular that even McDonald’s tried it.
As BuzzFeed notes, McDonald’s introduced their Breakfast Burrito and Chicken Fajitas in 1991. “We’ve taken your favorites… vesty grilled chicken, green pepper, onion, cheese, diced tomato… and wrapped them all in a soft flour tortilla for our new Chicken Fajitas,” reads an advertisement for it.
Although getting Mexican food at a McDonald’s might make one’s stomach churn, there are still some fans. A Facebook page calling for the chain to bring back chicken fajitas has 584 likes.
5. A U.K. Survey Shows That Fajitas Are Their Favorite International Dish
Fajitas aren’t just popular in the U.S. and Texas. The U.K. loves it too. An Asda survey released earlier this month reports that Mexican Fajitas are the favorite international dish in the U.K.
The survey found that 35 percent of Brits claim they refer international dishes over their own cuisine. In the last five years, U.K. Google searches jumped 225 percent, according to the survey.
In 2015, The Guardian reported that the number of Mexican restaurants in the U.K. jumped 71 percent just in the previous year.