Burrito or Buritto?

by Kathryn Baldwin

On Sunday, a trip to Oakland with my boyfriend and his mom to investigate a discount furniture store (Famsa) led us on a detour past an inspiring gas station sign:

Who’s idea was it to distort the spelling of a beautiful, two handed meal wrapped in foil? BURITTO?!?!?! Since when is it OK to create an American spelling for a Mexican culinary masterpiece? Let’s consider the facts… shall we?

You could argue that Mexico is Americanizing, but I can’t help but notice the Mexicanizing of America. (Or should I say re-Mexicanizing, considering President Polk stole this territory from Mexico in an unfair, 1845 treaty.) The two-way cultural exchange is blatant. Discotecas in Guadalajara blare Pit Bull’s Give Me Everything Tonight. Maná concerts fill up the San Jose, California’s HP Pavillion. Words like “troca” replace the regular word for camioneta or truck on both sides of the boarder. Mexican families sit at the dinner table in Cuernavaca, chewing slowly as they read the subtitles to CSI. S.F. Bay Area commuters (people like…me) listen to Piolín Por la Mañana, the most insanely successful Spanish radio station in the country, as a Mexican morphine drip to remedy thick traffic.

Then there’s food. In my opinion, the most fabulous piece of culture that flows freely into the U.S. involves an endless menu of Latin spices: steaming, flattened corn cakes, mounds of different shades of browns and reds piled onto a giant plate, shredded cheese spreading and glistening under a broiler, plump chiles and pickled, spicy carrots hidden in the mix, sliding down little hills of sour cream. (Nevermind the fact that the United States’ introduction of things like packaged Doritos have propelled Mexican youth into the number one spot for obesity in the world.)

I argue that Mexican cooks are, in a sort of backward, unexpected way, making me proud to be an American. Cinco de Mayo, any taquería, Olive Garden, California Pizza Kitchen, Fuddruckers; Mexicans and Mexican Americans are the majority of the culprit behind the counter in these magical food experiences no matter the restaurant.

And the Burrito? We eat these things every day but are they really “Mexican?”

Ironically, studying abroad in Mexico, my “house mother” asked me what food I missed and craved the most after four months away from home. “Burritos!” I answered without delay, considering I hadn’t seen a single burrito on any Mexican menu since leaving California. She turned to her husband to clarify how these “¿Burros?” (“Donkeys?”) are made. The next day, an oversized fajita sat lonely in the middle of my plate: a motherly attempt at easing my homesickness.

If my Mexican Mamá didn’t know how to make a true burrito, I had to find out… WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?!

El Farolito in the S.F. Mission District, El Tepeyac in East L.A. (among other small Mexican restaurants established around the late 1950s) argue over who created the burrito first (check out this guys blog about it). Some say the one handed, open-ended burrito my Mexican “Mamá” concocted for me originated in Sonora, Mexico.

Well, I’ve decided I don’t care where it originated. The cylindrical envelope of endless fillings that we Americans woof down with two hands and wide-mouthed chomps is now a necessary part of my life. The hybrid culture of Mexican-American, or American-Mexican, that nobody can pinpoint, the beautiful international nationality that feeds me from all angles is nourishing, intoxicating, satisfying, and addicting.

Spell it however you want. As a true American, as a true Mexico-lover, I LOVE BURITTOS.

Try constructing this one that I stole from my Mexican Cookbook. The ground cloves warmed my body in the midst of all this unexpected March rain.

-Boil two boneless, skinless chicken breasts for ten minutes. Let them rest a couple minutes on a plate. Shread the cooked meat with two forks.

-Sauté an onion with some ground cloves and oregano.

-Boil white rice and a little salt for 8 minutes. Rinse. (then add to the onion mixture)

-Add a 7oz can of tomatoes and their juice to the rice and onion mixture.

-Add the shredded chicken to the rice/onion mixture along with as much Jack cheese you want (maybe a cup and a half)

-Get some giant tortillas, warm them (wrapped inside foil on a plate above boiling water).

-put a mound of the chicken/rice/onion mixture in the middle of the circle and fold in all four sides. Cut it in half if you want to make it pretty 🙂

-garnish with sour cream? Salsa? More cheese? Fresh Oregano? Fresh Cilantro or Parsley? Make it how you want it. After all, it belongs to you not Mexico nor San Francisco, not L.A, nor Sonora, not President Polk, nor …. well you get the picture…



4 Comments to “Burrito or Buritto?”

  1. I am going to make these next time we have “burrito night” – excuse me, buritto night! love the sweet story about your host mom by the way. 🙂

  2. Although I am not what you would call a “burrito (buritto) person,” I like the sentiment of this piece. Ultimately I do not care if something isn’t truly “authentic,” as long as it tastes good, who cares?

  3. Nice post!! As a fan of burritos, I think you’ll appreciate The Burrito Guide on my blog. If you feel inspired to submit a recipe and a review, I’m happy to post it! http://www.foodandwinehedonist.com

  4. A smart friend of mine, Jim Stanley, has been a poultry farmer for over 25 years. Every time the kids and I would visit his farm, they might bug me for weeks to raise our own chickens. A few years ago they finally wore me down and I started wanting into raising chickens in my backyard.

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