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Eatymology: Frito Pie

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Eatymology: Frito Pie
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Jenn Hair

Frito Pie

[frē-tō pī]

n: A Southwestern staple of Fritos corn chips topped with chili, cheese, and onion served straight from the bag

Frito Pie fixin's.

In Texas, Frito pie—a simple dish of chili atop a pile of Fritos—is a mainstay at Friday night football games, school cafeterias, county fairs, and even fast food joints. In fact, Fritos got their start in the Lone Star State in 1932 when Charles Elmer “C.E.” Doolin bought a five-cent package of Mexican corn chips at a gas station in San Antonio. After liking what he ate, C.E. Doolin bought the recipe and small company and started frying up the chips at home while his mother, Daisy Doolin, crafted recipes for them. He called the chips Fritos, an Anglicized version of the Spanish fritas, or “fried.” Among Daisy Doolin’s early Fritos recipes, according to Texans, was Frito pie.

But cue the controversy: One state over, New Mexicans assert the dish was invented in 1960, when Teresa Hernandez ladled homemade red chili into an opened Fritos bag at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Santa Fe. After decades of quibbling, it’s time to put down the pitchforks, says Kaleta Doolin, C.E. Doolin’s daughter. She settles the score in Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes and More (Texas A&M University Press, 2011), drawing on Frito-Lay records to confirm the company served “Fritos chili pie” to the Dallas Dietetic Association in 1949, more than a decade before Hernandez concocted her dish. Unlike its history, the preparation of Frito pie is a simple matter: Slice open a single-serve Fritos bag and top with chili, cheese, and onion. Garnish with condiments like sour cream, jalapeños, and cilantro and dig in, preferably with a pile of napkins nearby.

Frito Pie Chili