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What is a Burrito?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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China has dumplings and egg rolls, Italy has ravioli and calzones, the French have crepes, and Americans have corn dogs. Although these four cuisines and the dishes described are very different, they all have something in common. All of the foods listed above are, in the most basic sense, a protein wrapped in a starch casing. The northern Mexican version of this international culinary concept is the burrito. It is made up of a flour tortilla filled with either beef, chicken, or pork.

It is interesting to note that this dish is much more popular in the United States than it is in Mexico. In fact, most Mexican restaurants in the central and southern part of the country do not serve the dish unless they are catering to tourists from North America.

While the burritos that are served in American are generally thick and filled with many ingredients in addition to meat, those which are served in Mexico are generally quite thin and filled only with meat. Mexican cuisine has become quite popular in the United States over the past few decades. This trend has become evident even in American fast food.

In addition to the traditional meat filling, American burritos often have many other ingredients folded into their soft tortilla shell. They commonly include black beans, pinto beans, rice, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, avocado slices, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream. Furthermore, some restaurants use shrimp and other kinds of seafood in specialty burritos.

In American restaurants, it is common to grill burritos once they have been filled and folded. Furthermore, many vegetarian-friendly restaurants serve them with no meat at all, which hardly represent the original dish at all. Vegetarian options often include spinach, broccoli, extra rice, beans, avocado, and other vegetables. As often happens when a traditional dish is appropriated and popularized, burritos have been translated many times over to satisfy different palates.

In Spanish, the word burrito literally means “little donkey.” It is believed that the dish gained this name because the end of a folded one looks a bit like the ear of a donkey. The etymology of the word may also have to do with the rolled bedding that traveling donkeys often carry.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Aug 31, 2012

I always think it is interesting how some of these "traditional" Mexican dishes have been Americanized. Like the article says, burritos are much more of an American dish now than popular Mexican fare.

We traveled to Mexico a few years ago on vacation and found the same thing. We went to what we thought was an authentic Mexican restaurant. It served all the normal things, so we didn't think anything of it.

After talking to our waitress for a while, she informed us that the real Mexican food was at another restaurant a couple blocks away. We ended up venturing into the city (probably a little further than we should have), but it was well worth it. They suggested the tamales to us, and they were fantastic! Ever since then, I am always wanting the real Mexican food.

By Emilski — On Aug 30, 2012

@burcidi - Breakfast burritos are something I just did start to like. I have heard of them and seen them being sold as some fast food places, but never though eggs sounded good with a tortilla. I was definitely wrong.

I think it is the salsa that really sells me on them. It's a good pick-me-up in the morning. I have found a pretty good trick for making them, though.

Instead of adding everything altogether in the tortilla shell, I basically make an omelet with the ingredients, chop it up, and throw it in the shell. That keeps everything together and avoids some messiness. Learning the right wrapping technique for a burrito is a key, as well.

By jcraig — On Aug 30, 2012

@ankara - You are totally right. Burritos are my go-to meal when I have to eat and drive. You have to be kind of selective, though, or you're going to end up with a huge mess.

I think Taco Bell is pretty good most of the time. Their burritos are well wrapped and are good for the price. Some of them can get a little large, though.

We have a great Mexican place down the street from where I work, though. Their slogan is that they make "Burritos as big as your head." They are huge, but they wrap them well, so they're easy to eat. My friend and I usually have them cut one in half and we share it.

By matthewc23 — On Aug 29, 2012

@fBoyle - I'm glad you finally got to experience a burrito. I am not a vegetarian, but I have a friend who is. She has introduced me to a lot of pretty good vegetarian dishes even though I'm still not a fan of tofu.

It seems like if the veggies are prepared right, about any dish can be good. It just takes a good combination that has a lot of flavor and a lot of different textures.

I would imagine that vegetarian burritos would be good with some different types of peppers, rice, beans, and salsa.

By burcidi — On Aug 28, 2012

@ankara-- You should try making breakfast burrito at home. It's also a hit with the kids, especially because they can pick which ingredients they want in their burrito.

I don't make breakfast burritos every day but I do make them often on the weekends. I basically prepare all the different ingredients in different bowls-- tomato, cheese, avocados, eggs, meat and toppings. I let everyone decide what they want and put it in their wrap.

This way I don't get any complaints that one of my kids doesn't want the tomatoes and the other doesn't want the avocados and so forth. Sunday breakfast is just so much easier this way.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 28, 2012

@fBoyle-- Really? I'm not vegetarian but that sounds like an interesting combination.

Aren't burritos like the best on-the-go meal? If I'm in a rush and I don't have time to sit down and have a proper meal, I will usually grab a couple of burritos. I love that I can have them anywhere-- in the car, walking or at work without making a mess everywhere.

It's delicious too but I'm not too fond of burritos from chain restaurants. I've tried breakfast burritos from a chain restaurant. They're okay, but not the best. I prefer getting more "authentic" burritos from Mexican restaurants or making them myself at home.

By fBoyle — On Aug 27, 2012

I didn't have a burrito until recently because I'm vegetarian. I'm sure vegetarian burritos have been around for a while. But since I've always considered burritos to be non-vegetarian food with some kind of meat in it, I didn't even look into it.

But last week, one of my friends who is also vegetarian brought me lunch which was vegetarian burritos made with tofu and black bean. It was amazing! I didn't think that a vegetarian burrito could be so delicious! I'm a huge burrito fan now. I would have it every day for lunch if I could.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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