Monday, November 12, 2007

The great mystery of olives in Margaritas

November 12

The Margaritas that Sylvia and I ordered at the Matamoros restaurant (see the blog entry below) were served with a garnish of a green olive stuffed with a pimento.
Sylvia quickly plucked it from her drink’s rim and dropped it onto her cocktail napkin, took a sip of her Margarita and grimaced. But the problem wasn't the olive, the problem, she surmised, was that it was just too sweet. She doctored it with a bunch of lime wedges that were on the table, but she still couldn’t finish it. I thought there was something else strange in there, but the problem wasn’t the olive. Maybe it was just really bad tequila.
At any rate, we took the olive as a sign that the restaurant really didn’t understand Margaritas. We shrugged, got into her car and got in line to cross the border, emptying the contents of the bag we got at Las Palmas into our stomachs. Either the sugar or the fact that she was eating copious amounts of pastry and getting crumbs in her brother’s car after having eaten two lunches made Sylvia giddy. We were having fun.
But back to the Margarita mystery. For dinner we drove to South Padre Island to an old-school Tex-Mex place called The Palmetto Inn. I ordered enchiladas verdes and a Margarita, which came frozen. The garnish: a lime wedge and an olive on a skewer.

The Margarita was fine, but what was the olive doing there?
We finished off with a nightcap at Garcia’s, which was nearby. I ordered another Margarita, on the rocks.
It was garnished with three olives on a skewer.
“What’s up with the olives?” I asked the bartender, who told me it was a common garnish in Mexico, which of course it’s not.
Or is it?
My experience in Mexico is limited, but the Margaritas I had in the Los Mochis airport and throughout Sinaloa were free of olives.
The next day we drove to Houston and went to Sylvia’s restaurant (Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen) and she asked her cooks, who come from all over Mexico, about olives and Margaritas. None of them had ever seen olives in them.
Meanwhile I had a chelada and learned that American limes don’t seem to work as well in them as the milder Mexican ones — either that or the limes had been squeezed forcibly enough to extract some of the oil, adding extra lime flavor and bitterness. Also, the salt used to rim most Margarita glasses is too course for a chelada.
I ate eleven of Sylvia’s 18 varieties of enchiladas along with some tres leches cake, some chocolate tres leches cake (Sylvia’s invention) and some flan.
Today, after returning from Houston, well fed on migas and Sylvia’s signature pancakes, I e-mailed the listserv of the Association for the Study of Food and Society, the smartest people I know when it comes to foodways. Some responded accurately but unhelpfully that olives in Margaritas sounded gross. But they also speculated that the practice of adding olives might be isolated to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
But Janet Chrzan cleverly found an entry in Wikipedia for a Mexican Martini:
This popular Texas cocktail consists of a large margarita (tequila-based) on the rocks, usually shaken and presented in the shaker, providing several servings poured by the drinker into a salt-rimmed cocktail glass with an olive garnish.
But it’s Wikipedia, and there’s nothing definitive about that.


Anonymous said...

I'm green with envy at your time in the warm and delicious Rio Grande Valley! I spent the last two years there as a teacher with Teach for America and now I'm back up in the Midwest--freezing and suffering from a lack of good Tex-Mex. Just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts this morning. I did a lot of cooking rather than eating out on my teaching salary and my favorite was tumbled beef fajita from a corner store in Weslaco. On the weekend, I'd hop across the border to Progresso (Las Flores) and buy the best cheap eats ever--a taco de bistek with avocado, tomato, and cabbage from a taco stand.

Oddly enough, I never had a margarita with olives in it. Interesting! Thanks for sharing the highlights of your trip.


viagra online said...

well in this case and in my opinion this is more for style that for flavor, because the liquor flavor is too strong and the oilves lose a lot of it own flavor.

Anonymous said...

I found this from googling "olives in margarita" because at Applebees of all places my margarita came in a martini glass with an olive at the bottom! Mistake? The waiter said it wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I use to go to Progresso Mexico several times a year before the border problems arised. I actually crave the olive margaritas that they serve there. I live in Corpus Christi Texas. Any margaritas that you can find here does not taste anything close to the ones I had there. Tried to make my own, still no comparision. Would love to find the true recipe. It is not just as simple as adding an olive-but the olive is YUM-YUM in that recipe.

Anonymous said...

They always come with margaritas... maybe just not the ones drunkards make at home. I got here by googling why after seeing it in so many shows and what not, thought it may be a flavor thing more than aesthetics.

Bret Thorn said...

Actually, latest anonymous commenter, olives don't always come with Margaritas, not in the United States and not in Mexico, except, from what I can tell, in the Rio Grande Valley. Is that where you live?

Anonymous said...

I recently went to a wedding reception and had my favorite drink margarita on the rocks. The bartender had run out of limes to garnish and seeing my disappointment almost begged me to try with olives. I was skeptical but when I tried it was very surprised at how wonderful the olive tasted with drink. I will never ever have another margarita with out olives.

Unknown said...

I am not sure where I picked it up but I cannot drink a margarita without olives. If you let them settle in your drink they absorb the liquor and are very good after your drink. They also add a salt to offset too sweet of a drink.

Anonymous said...

Was offered one in a martini glass with salt on rim at Applebee's with shaker of "perfect margarita".

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was a bartender in Texas for many years. Now living in Pittsburgh and now a Winter Texan, I was aghast to find olives in my margaritas on South Padre Island. I tried to get to the bottom of it as well. The Mexican Margaretha was one of the explications. I can tell you that it does not come from Mexico. It does seem to be a Rio Grande Valley thing. If the trend expands, heaven help us!