Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I'm thinking about burritos as of late. I have had Mexican cuisine five times during this visit, so far. Three out of five times I had a burrito, once I had a chile relleno, and once I had tacos. I still have to get pan dulce one of these days. It is mandatory that I consume at least one burrito whenever I come to the San Francisco Bay Area because (1) they are abundant, and (2) they are good.

I got some flack for a Yelp! review I did of Mr. Villa's, a Mexican family restaurant on Lake City Way, in Seattle. The guy wrote to me to let me know, in a rude and condescending manner, that being from California gave me no authority on Mexican food. I was ticked off, swearing that his charge was off the mark because he is from Seattle and therefore knows not a whit of what he says. But it got me thinking. What gives us the authority, being from San Francisco, and not being of Mexican descent, on Mexican food? Because I'm sure all of us from this area do indeed think we know what we are talking about in the burrito department, the chip department, the salsa department, and so on. So what is it?

My flow of consciousness on the matter: California is what, 50% Hispanic? There is even a term used in California, possibly originating in California, definitely found in CA universities as part of the ethnic studies programs, to describe those of Mexican descent: Chicano. I never hear that word in Washington State. Even though I am a white Californian, part of my identity has to include Latinos as my brothers ... sort of ... at least this place has part of its identity as once part of Spain, then Mexico ... that translates to its people somehow. In fact, my neighbor in Seattle says that she is Californian and means that her family is from the time when this was "California part of Mexico," which is an identity of place and people frozen in time. Gosh, flows of consciousness can be messy. Surely, though, we Californians all grow up knowing at least a little Spanish in this state - well, most of us. I'm sure people in Ukiah and McCloud are not well-versed in Spanish, but who knows? maybe they are. The point is that there is a huge Mexican influence in California, especially along the coast in all the cities along El Camino Real, which connected all the missions. Just look at the city names, for goodness' sake. I am from San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco, which is north of Los Angeles, the other big city that everyone knows. If I want to get family style Mexican food, or pan dulce, or attend church services in Spanish, I have lots of venues to choose from. If I wanted to, I could stop speaking English all together and just speak Spanish and I could perform all my business without a problem. So is that it? I have authority because of the mere glut of Mexican food and the sheer number of burritos I have eaten in my life. Burritos eaten at establishments owned and run by Spanish-speaking peoples who may be Chicanos or Mexican immigrants.

People from Seattle can talk up and down about salmon and coffee and go unchallenged on the source of their authority. They can also go on and on about sushi because of the scads of fresh fish that have come into the harbor since the 1800s. That fish wasn't always slapped onto vinegared rice, but it is now and I don't think that the authenticity of a person's sushi prowess would be challenged just because that person is not from Japan, doesn't speak Japanese, and has never even seen Mt Fuji. Right?

So, I am from California. I know what a good burrito is, what a bad burrito is, and I like my chips thick and lightly salted! Tomatillo salsa needs a little sweet in it; guacamole needs a little acid; and pickled veggies are a must. Your pastor should have some crust and your carnitas should be unctuous, but not over the top. Lard in the beans? I can take it. Why? Because I am from San Bruno! Respect my authority!

I would love to extend this conversation if people have comments and questions and musings of their own.


  1. I'm not even really sure what a Burrito is! Can you enlighten me?

    Reading US food blogs really makes me notice the difference between our food cultures! It's interesting!

  2. Wow! The differences are fun, aren't they? I read Cockney slang on one Brit blog and was truly baffled.

    Burrito: Take a flour tortilla and fill with beans (black, pinto, or refried, cooked with flavoring that often consists of a pork product and onions), rice (also flavored usually with onion, and tomato and spices like cumin), meat of some sort (here the list is long and includes specific preparations, like pastor), cheese (mild and young), and any combination of salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. There are many different salsas, too. Burritos are like calzones or samosas in that the inside is wrapped neatly in an edible package that you can eat with your hands. I don't know if I took any photos of my burritos! I'll have to make them at home and post a photo for foreign enlightenment.

    Thanks for the question. It's fun to try and describe something that I think of as so commonplace.