The burrito unwrapped

Caoimhe Gordon examines the history and popularity of the humble burrito

Deciding upon a worthy spot for a lunch excursion can often take more time than actually eating lunch. Huddles of comrades congregate at the designated college location that was previously decided upon in the group chat. Everyone is challenged to suggest a filling and wholesome lunch. Those seen to be on their phones are urged to focus on the pressing matter at hand. It is at this time in the early afternoon where the famed streets of Dublin city are filled with office workers and students alike, all displaying the early symptoms of an ailment commonly called “hangry”.

Suddenly a voice of reason echoes out among the humming and hawing. This soul of reason exclaims “Here, why don’t we just get a burrito?”. The clouds part, the hunger pangs are momentarily alleviated…until the debate on which burrito establishment is deemed fit for this impromptu luncheon begins. A fervent arbitration will then erupt, but the pleasure of knowing that a flour tortilla rolled around a filling of meat, beans, and cheese will soon be devoured remains.

What really is the humble burrito? A filling lunch option. A reliable favourite. A food that suggest grand notions of city living to a simple first year during Freshers’ Week. Must the guacamole cost extra? Through arduous research, this newspaper has uncovered the mystery behind these exotic wraps. Directly translated from Spanish, burrito can be deciphered to mean “little donkey”, a revelation that may leave one incredulous. Like many world changing inventions, from the telephone to calculus, the burrito’s discovery has an unclear history. The precise origin is unknown but it cannot be disputed that the burrito began its existence in Mexico.

Many speculate that it was created by livestock traders in the region while others claim it was the meal of choice of farmworkers who would prepare their tortilla filled snacks and leave them out in the sun as they worked to heat them up before their lunch. Some very imaginative people claim the name began as burritos look like donkey ears or more likely, the packs the animals once carried upon their travels. A popular folk tale recalls the journey of a man called Juan Mendez from Chihuahua, Mexico. This potentially fictitious but also unsung hero Juan Mendez, I imagine, was a man without hubris but dedicated to the cause. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, his unnamed donkey companion transported his cart of food about. In order to keep the food warm for his adoring customers, Mendez would wrap his offerings in a large homemade flour tortilla. Thus it gained its name as the food of the “burrito”, the little donkey. As admirable as Mendez’s work is, the burrito may have existed long before the revolution. The Diccionario de Mexicanismos has an entry for the burrito as early as 1895.

However, the burritos that we all know, love and consume with great gusto are not the same burritos as those of this time. As one enthusiastic member of a burrito-dedicated online forum commented on a recent thread, “Originated in northern Mexico, perfected in northern California”. Yes, this jampacked, aluminum-covered wonder available a stone’s throw from Front Gate owes its life to the Latino “Mission District” of San Francisco during the 1960’s. The city famed for its rolling hills and its Golden Gate bridge, which will be instagrammed countless times by J1 students this year, also has a district with a claim to being a site of food pilgrimage. It was in this region of the city by the bay that the burrito was beefed up. The ingenious addition of a tinfoil wrapping allowed an easier hold, until one reaches that uncertain time when the excess fillings seem likely to make their escape. was in this very city over a burrito lunch in the south park neighborhood that a young man by the name Jack Dorsey revealed his idea for the internet service that would become his legacy,: Twitter. Competition to “Mission burrito” comes from the “Californian Burrito”, the decidedly egotistical name chosen by its inventors in San Diego, which opts for chips instead of the traditional rice.

40 odd years after the burrito took America by storm, it finally came here and the Irish populace took a shine to it. Most of us can recall our first encounter with the cumbersome burrito but now with so many burrito joints available, the steadfast burrito lives on in many forms. Burritos & Blues were the first to introduce the craze to  citizens of Ireland, opening in Ranelagh in 2004. However the favourite, in the official polls and unofficial murmurs on the street, has to be Boojum, holding a special place in our minds and bellies since 2007.

With all the new found knowledge and clarity about the burrito, one is pushed to wonder: what is it really like to be on  the other side of the counter, making these tinfoil packages of joy? I recently had the opportunity to speak to two pals who have entered the world of burrito-making with a fast growing business in the Regensburg Germany. Their appreciation of burritos seems to only  have increased from their working on them. When asked what’s truly important to making burrito perfection, their replies were instantaneous: “The guacamole!”, with one then adding, “As well as the roll.” Ah, yes, this mythical folding and rolling method that gives the idyllic shape and guarantees all the ingredients stay in. I asked my other friend if she had been trained how to effectively fold burritos but it emerged that she had a natural knack for this important skill.

Their insights into the experience as well as the burrito trend that is now prevailing in Germany confirmed what we already knew: the burrito is similar to its namesake, the donkey in its stubborn and persistent march to success. The burrito is here to stay, long may it reign!