A burrito is a dish in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine that consists of a flour tortilla with various other ingredients. It is wrapped into a closed-ended cylinder that can be picked up, in contrast to a taco, where the tortilla is simply folded around the fillings. The tortilla is sometimes lightly grilled or steamed to soften it, make it more pliable, and allow it to adhere to itself when wrapped. A wet burrito, however, is covered in sauce and is therefore generally eaten with silverware.
In Mexico, meat and refried beans are frequently the only fillings. In the United States, however, burrito fillings may include a large combination of ingredients such as Spanish rice or plain rice, boiled beans or refried beans, lettuce, salsa, meat, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and various vegetables. Burrito sizes vary greatly and some can be very large.
Before the development of the modern burrito, the Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico used corn tortillas in 10,000 B.C. to wrap foods, with fillings of chili peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and avocados. Historically, the Pueblo peoples of the Southwestern US also made tortillas filled with beans and meat sauce and prepared much like the modern burrito. But these preparations could also be said to be the origin of the simpler taco, rather than the modern burrito.
The precise origin of the modern burrito is not known. Some have speculated that it may have originated with vaqueros, the cowboys of northern Mexico in the 19th century. In the 1895 Diccionario de Mexicanismos, the burrito or taco was identified as a regional item from the Mexican state of Guanajuato and defined as “Tortilla arrollada, con carne u otra cosa dentro, que en Yucatán llaman coçito, y en Cuernavaca y en Mexico, taco” (A rolled tortilla with meat or other ingredients inside, called ‘coçito’ in Yucatán and ‘taco’ in the city of Cuernavaca and in Mexico City).
An oft-repeated piece of folk history is the story of a man named Juan Méndez who sold tacos at a street stand in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez during the Mexican Revolution period (1910–1921), while using a donkey as a transport for himself and his food, . To keep the food warm, Méndez wrapped it in large homemade flour tortillas underneath a small tablecloth. As the “food of the burrito” (i.e., “food of the little donkey”) grew in popularity, “burrito” was eventually adopted as the name for these large tacos.
Coming soon: a directory of restaurants and food outlets selling burritos and other Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes