What Is Frito Pie?

Who needs nachos when you have Fritos?. (Photo: Jose Kevo [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

I spend some time each morning researching food news. Sometimes, there are important news items to write about, like yesterday when I wrote about how the government shutdown is affecting food assistance. Then there are news items that make me ask, “This is news?” Yet, somehow they capture my interest.

This is the latter. Anthony Bourdain, who makes headlines whether he’s starring in a new show or dissing Paula Deen (before it was cool to diss Paula Deen), is now making headlines for disparaging Frito Pie and then sort of, but not actually, apologizing for doing so on his show, “Parts Unknown.”

I’d never heard of Frito Pie, so I did a little research. Frito Pie, to me, is basically nachos made with Fritos instead of tortilla chips and chili instead of taco-seasoned ground beef. It can be made as a casserole or right in a Frito bag that’s snipped open and filled with chili and cheese.

Here’s the clip of Bourdain's Frito Pie experience from the show.

Why is this making headlines? Bourdain issued what some are calling an apology but what is really more of a clarification — something that apparently isn't too common for the celebrity.

The manager of Santa Fe’s Five & Dime General Store where Bourdain bought his Frito Pie says the TV star got it wrong. They don’t use canned chili; they make their own and they use peppers native to the state. Some people are also upset that he said the dish was actually from Texas. New Mexicans claim the concoction as their own.

Bourdain’s people say he “admits we got it wrong” and that it will be corrected in reruns of the episode. Bourdain himself issued a clarification about his Frito Pie stance.

Contrary to the impression left by some reports of the show, I, in fact, very much enjoyed my Frito pie in spite of its disturbing weight in the hand. It may have felt like [expletive] but was shockingly tasty.

I must admit, it does seem kind of tasty. I must not be the only one who thinks so, because according to a tweet by Esmee Williams from Allrecipes.com, Frito Pie recipe “searches are up by 310,000% vs. last week” on the popular recipe site. She pointed her followers to a recipe on the site called “King of the Hill Frito Pie” that uses ground turkey instead of beef.

To me, this looks like one of those dishes that would be great to make once a year, maybe on Super Bowl Sunday, where you use the best quality ingredients you can for the chili. Pack it full of healthy beans, shred up a flavorful local cheddar cheese, and, if you’d rather not use actual Fritos for any number of reasons, it looks like Trader Joe’s makes Organic Corn Chip Dippers that would be a good substitute for Fritos.