Article

The Tale Of Twin Burrito Bowl

In appearance, one looks like the deconstructed version of a popular variant, while the other a tasteful Indian rendition of the Tex-Mex innovation, in curation though, both go much beyond.  

By Madhulika Dash; photograph courtesy Sanchez, Jugni


Burrito, or the Tex-Mex superhero that has done more for Mexican food and flavours globally than perhaps Mayan Chocolate (and gold). How else would one explain the different versions of burrito that we find today, which much like its older cousin, tacos, continues to be a delicious roll of versatility – not to mention a great example of finger food. You can wrap anything in sheet of tortilla, and it taste not just definitely Mexican but infinitely delicious. It is this versatility that has made burrito a significant part of the global favourite food list, and on par with Pizza, Pasta and Chicken Tikka on one hand; while on the other, it has elevated it to being this perfect platform to introduce Mexican flavours that wouldn’t have not quite made out on their own like Mole.  

THE MANY TALES OF BURRITO

The reason, says Mexican specialist Chef Vikas Seth of Sanchez, “that burrito enjoys such a pride position in the culinary world even as it has a conspicuous presence in the country itself, is its taco-like composition. There is no right or wrong way to prepare a burrito except the presence of a masa or flour-based tortilla. The last bit of easiness added by Spanish conquerors who ensured that while they ruled the gold, chocolate, and corn-rich nation, they would turn the corn-happy food culture into liking wheat-based food habits.”

In fact, Chef Seth continues, “it was this insistence that brought in wheat into Mexico, and the grain became a part of the North West Mexican food habit  – a region where many believe the first burrito was created. Story has it that the Spanish masters insisted on having the different dishes when served on the flour-based roasted crepe or as locals called it tortilla.  The burrito that resembled the log on a donkey’s back was basically a way local grub was presented to the colonist and comprised of a filling that would have rice or meat, fried beans, salsa, guacamole, some form of hand cranked cheese that was layered and wrapped in a soft taco or tortilla sheet to enable ease of eating.”

In many ways, says Chef Pradeep Tejwani, Culinary Director, Jugni, “it resembled the traditional taco, which the Mexican made to have their meat. The difference was the base – while the locals loved their tacos made from masa – ground corn – and doused with the rich mole, the colonial powers wanted theirs made in flour with salsa and guacamole added to make some of the Mexican flavours, palpable to their tastebuds.”

The other reason that endorses burrito as a North-western Mexican creation is also the presence of a lot of mining pockets along with the colonial settlements that made this region prime for such an innovation. After all, by the Mexican Revolution in 1920, there was a lot of mining and industrial work that was happening in this region, thus enabling the existence of another story of its origin: that of Juan Mendez, who found that food wrapped in tortillas not only kept it warm but were extremely handy to transport and distribute to the workers without the need of any cutlery or crockery.

The fact that it was carried on the donkey may have got burrito, which in foundation a wrapped tortilla its name, but if foodlorist are to be believed, it was also a word of endearment that caught on from Ciudad Juanez from Sonora, one of the wheat growing regions in Mexico. Cludad would create these small tortilla rolls filled meat, rice, beans, and sauce as this quick mid-day lunch for poor kids in his locality, whom he lovingly called burrito, a word that his creation soon adopted because of its satiating nature.  

THE RISE OF THE ROLL  


Such was the effectiveness of this simple roll that in 1923, says Chef Tejwani, “when Alejandroo Borquez opened the first Tex-Mex café in America, he didn’t shy from putting the burrito into the menu as specials with filling options that ranged from the good old classics from Mexico – essentially paired dishes – to the ones inspired by the Spanish conquerors and a few American as well.  

The success of those initial versions, says Chef Seth, “one of which could possibly be the all-popular rice, refried beans, sour cream, meat or vegetables and guacamole went on to be a part of the exciting list of pop, comfort food.”

Of course, burrito’s global conquest had to wait for a few more events like in 1956 Duane R Roberts invented the frozen burrito that ensured that burritos that were a part of this long shelf-life food could now cross borders, then came the Oki Dog, which was essentially a burrito that had swallowed the American hot dog or two complete with the pastrami, cheese  and grilled sweet onion, followed by the Magnum Opus of Mission Burrito, which, says Chef Tejwani, “transformed burrito a simple roll into this MET Gala style, larger than life treat that could take as many character roles as one wanted.”

That and the renewed interest in Chipotle thanks to a brilliant marketing plan, burrito turned into a global favourite becoming the first advocate to the glocal trend. Today, says Chef Seth, “you can look at the filling and know where the version must have originated.”

While the multifaceted side of burrito made it a chefs’ favourite mode to experiment too, it also effectively disguised what the original burrito was like. Funnily, even with the top 10 variants of burrito, says Chef Seth, “it is tough to say which one was the original muse.”

THE MAKING OF THE TWIN BOWL  


A hurdle that Chef Seth too faced when a few years ago he decided to deconstruct a burrito to create his signature Burrito Bowl. On the face of it, recalls Chef Seth, “it seemed like an easy idea to implement. All we had to do is roll open a burrito and place it separately.” Turns out that that wasn’t the case. “I had to rework the entire layering process in a way that no matter how it is eaten the bowl aced the dual role of giving you the taste of individual elements as well as taste like a burrito when had together,” says Chef Seth, who since then has effectively Indianized Tamale too taking inspiration for the Bajra roti and sarson ka saag.  

What also posed an issue was which burrito one chooses for the purpose of the innovation. For Chef Seth, it was always the basic burrito of 1923. It had that all palate pleasing appeal about it, confesses the Mexican specialist who also made a tour to Mexico to understand their traditional way of pairing and layering flavours. “It was during my visit city of Oaxaca de Juárez that I realized a fascinating component of old food cultures, their way of using spices and culinary technique that made them closer kins of each other. The level of spice and herbs used to make some of the dishes is much like that in India,” recalls Chef Seth, who used the traditional understanding to create the bowl that was much on the foundation lines of #eatingtherainbow (ER) and #traditionalknowledgeforward (TKF) and his Indian sensibilities. Result, the burrito bowl they introduced had a millet, a quinoa and local rice options, all made on request today.  

For Chef Tejwani however, his version of the burrito bowl, which the seasoned Sindh cuisine expert simply calls the “desi burrito bowl” is a study into the Silk Route, the original culinary highway that saw some of the fascinating food influences and ingredients arrive to mainland India including chillies, chocolate and eventually tacos too. As one of the ancient culinary cultures, says Chef Tejwani, “both Mexico and India had similar techniques of cooking, flavouring and the know how of making funky, but rich sauces and some clever chutneys/relishes that could crank up the taste profile of a simple dish. Likewise, was their understanding and treatment of the meat and incorporation of new-age ingredients like tomatoes. And given that both nations are traditionally rice and corn loving cultures, finding the common thread was a laborious but possible task.” And that is exactly what Chef Tejwani did while recreating Chef Seth’s burrito bowl to have a classic ‘when in India, eat Indian’ appeal. Of course, what really helped, confesses Chef Tejwani, was the Spanish connect that made a few things common like our roasted Tomato kachumber to their salsa, the hung curd for their sour cream and of course the green pea and chickpea style mash for the guacamole.”

The only difference are the beans, which instead of refried beans is chickpea in Chef Tejwani’s version because of its cultural significance in India.  

But, say the chef-duo, “in taste and texture, each one is an ode to a civilization that had laid the foundation of delicious food, and its practitioners.”