Pati Jinich Thinks Borderland Foods Are Misunderstood - Exclusive

Best-selling author and Mexican Cultural Institute resident chef Pati Jinich's culinary travel special "La Frontera" is an exploration of the U.S.-Mexico border, focusing specifically on the communities that live along the border and the flavorful cuisine that has blossomed in that unique region. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Jinich shared her experiences traveling throughout the Borderlands, the culinary wonders that exist at those intersections, and how her identity as a Mexican-Jewish-American mother influences her cooking.

For Jinich, "La Frontera" is about "wanting to understand what happens in a place where these two countries continuously meet, and what happens to the food and the culture." One of her strongest takeaways is that "Borderland foods are misunderstood. It's food that Mexicans look down on because they think, 'Oh, this is not truly Mexican,' and Americans see it as Americanized versions of Mexican food."

The U.S.-Mexico border is a special place for Jinich because the intersection of so many different cultures mirrors her lived experience. "As a Mexican immigrant in the U.S., as a Mexican Jew in Mexico, as a mother to Mexican-American kids here in the U.S., in the kitchen, I was able to navigate all those identities and to honor all the foods that I inherited by being Mexican," she said. Something similar happens at the border, which is why she believes that "true Borderland food is incredibly authentic. It's true in relation to the Borderlands — to this place where these countries continuously meet."

The true culinary flavors of the Borderlands

According to Pati Jinich, the most common and delicious foods found at the Borderlands are "nachos, fajitas, taquitas, burritos, fish tacos, and Caesar salad." And while she says many people question whether these foods are Mexican or American, one thing is clear: "Everybody wants to eat them. These shared foods have a very strong Mexican stamp but weave in American elements in a beautiful, coherent way."

One of the biggest differences Jinich observes between the food made at the Borderlands that can also be found across the U.S. is that at the border, the dishes are "typically much more simple with really good homemade tortillas, cheese, and pickled chiles. The further you get from the border, the more they start loading them with carnitas, sour cream, and pico de gallo." 

While Jinich finds all of those toppings delicious, she has a particular appreciation for the freshness, quality, and simplicity of the food made at the Borderlands. "There's this pride in making things from scratch," she told us. "There's an intensity to the ingredients at the border, and there's an intensity to the passion by which the food is cooked that I have not found in other places."

Check your local PBS station's listings to find out when new episodes of "Pati's Mexican Table" air in your area.