Enchiladas originated in Mexico, where the practice of rolling tortillas around other food dates back at least to Mayan times. The people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Bernal Díaz del Castillo documented a feast enjoyed by Europeans hosted by Hernán Cortés in Coyoacán, which included foods served in corn tortillas.
Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy cites an early reference from an American traveler from 1883 who remarked, "Enchiladas, a greasy tortilla sandwich containing chiles and a number of other uninviting looking compounds and other nasty messes, are sold everywhere, filling the air with a pungent, nauseous smell." Kennedy goes on to heartily disagree with that characterization, likely brought on by culture shock. Another early mention, in English, is a 1914 recipe found in California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook, by Bertha Haffner Ginger.