I have a lot of personal, practical and familiar experience with burritos. As a child of one Hispanic parent and another who would rather cook refried beans than a roast, I ate my fair share of them.
When I was eight I asked my dad about where burritos came from, while enjoying one, and he casually mentioned they were originally sold from a donkey cart. (He’s Mexican, so I took his word as gospel.) My eight year old burrito loving soul was crushed, however, when the flimsiest of Google searches turned up that the story is somewhat suspect.
The tale of an enterprising Mexican Revolutionary named Juan Valdez selling quick and easy meals from his burro cart during the Mexican Revolution is probably a cartload of bullshit. But, like most charming legends, there is probably a grain of truth in there. Burritos were not referred to as such until that period (Around 1910’ish) so it’s safe to say that’s when the pocket food took off. What better way to feed an army of rebels than with food that had a wrapper you could eat?
The name of a thing can tell you a lot about where it came from, but hope is not lost if that trail runs cold. I still want to know what superhuman genius first thought to wrap marinated meat and other gut busting fillings into a tortilla shell.
To answer these questions, let’s step back and consider the traditional fair of Northern Mexico.
The Mixtec and Aztec cultures that comprised what we now know as Mexico relied heavily on corn. Wheat was not introduced to the region until the 16th century, so the burrito as we know it did not exist before Christopher Columbus graced the continent with his douchey presence.
Many of the foods you stuff into your Cheeto-hole while baked out of your mind does, in fact, come from Latin America. These staples were vacant from the tables of the syphilitic rulers of Europe until circa 1500:
I know I missed a few, but I thought only listing the food stuffs most likely found inside a vending machine or convenience store would best serve the topic at hand.
So far the burrito is looking like the ill formed child of empire and war. All of the delectable ingredients wrapped up in the flour-ey oppression of the conquistadors.
Speaking of douchebags, the Spanish introduced a few things of their own to the Americas during the Columbian Exchange. ( Exchange is a generous word. Unless you count ‘everything you God Damn own for smallpox and yellow fever’ an exchange.) Mostly they were useless things like typhoid and Catholicism, but wheat, horses and guns would eventually prove helpful to the occupied nation.
You can only pillage, rape and murder the hell out of a culture for so long, though. Eventually it will turn into another culture, and probably try and kill you. Three hundred years later Spanish rule was politely asked to Get the Fuck Out with the aid of a bayonet point.
Sometime, between 1821 and 1940, the burrito was born. Maybe it was a revolutionary food, maybe migrant workers adapted to what was available to them in the orange groves and strawberry fields of mid-century California, and maybe it’s always been around. Whether wheat or corn, a staple that doesn’t need a name.
I didn’t actually figure out where the burrito came from but I did sneak in some history. Sadly, you are probably too stoned to notice. Although the fact that every culture on the planet pairs protein and starch, so a handheld version isn’t a far gone conclusion.