We know you love coming to Mad Mex for our burrito (it is the world’s best, after all!), but how much do you really know about this iconic Mexican dish? Where did it come from, why do people love it and, most importantly of all, how do you pack so much rich, decadent flavour into each cocoon of goodness?
The long and short of it is that we don’t actually know who invented the specific thing that we call a “burrito” today. That would make for a very short article, given that we’re here to talk about the history of the burrito, but stay with us, amigos! We promise this does get interesting.
So, the reason that the dish is so authentic to Mexican culture is that people were making something like burritos for an astronomically long time before the Spanish and Europeans showed up. There are records that go back at to at least 10,000 years B.C., in fact. Through all that time we know that the indigenous people of Mexico would make tortillas out of corn flour (or maize, as it’s known locally), and fill them with ingredients.
Those ingredients were mostly vegetables, because diets back then didn’t really have meat (and don’t forget, vegan burritos are an option at Mad Mex! (We weren’t BSing you when we said we said authenticity was important to us). Once the conquistadors arrived, however, chicken, beef and cheese certainly became popular additions to these pockets of goodness.
And so, this dish continued to evolve. First the meats were added. Then maize was replaced with wheat flour as the base for the tortilla. And now we have the burrito in its current form; slightly different to how the ancients made and ate them, but truly an all-time classic that has never gone out of fashion.
But what is a “burrito”?
Ah! Now this is the really interesting bit: how did we end up calling these flavour bursts “burritos”, because that was not the name of the classic dish? There was a recipe in one of the early, authoritative guides to Mexican cuisine (“Diccionario de Mejicanismos” in 1895) that describes what a burrito is – a rolled tortilla filled with meat and other ingredients. But it doesn’t call it that name. Therefore, we know that the name of the burrito is much more recent, and likely comes from the early 20th century.
Now, “burrito” actually translates to “little donkey”, and that has given rise to a number of folkloric stories to explain how something that does not contain donkey meat and does not look like a donkey might be named after donkeys.
One popular story is that of Juan Méndez, who, during the Mexican Revolution in 1910-1920, travelled around with a donkey, and realised that, unlike with the tacos he was previously selling, the fully wrapped nature of the burrito meant that the ingredients stayed warmer for longer. And so, he “invented” the burrito as a convenience for his customers.
Another story – and if we’re being honest, our favourite – is that in the 1940’s, there was a street vendor (whose name we don’t know), who sold burritos to children at a nearby school as a cheap lunch. He called the kids “burrito” (slang for “dim-witted” but meant with affection), and the name stuck.
The final possibility is that the burrito was “invented” in northwest Mexico a few decades after the time of the above two as food that was easy to carry around while travelling (again, with donkeys, hence the name). This is perhaps the most likely story since, firstly, the area is well-known for growing the wheat that is used in a burrito’s tortilla. Secondly, the proximity to the United States of America explains how the burrito ended up becoming so popular among Americans and, from there, the rest of the world.
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See? We told you it is a fascinating story. The burrito itself may be old but there are always new ways to mix and match new flavours, meaning that great burrito taste never gets old. Come into your local Mad Mex today and create your own burrito filled with all of the authentic flavours from Mexico, even some 12,000 years on.