When we think of popular Mexican foods, burritos are usually at or near the top of the list. A self-contained meal of beans, rice, vegetables, and other ingredients, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a burrito, at least on occasion. But how much do you know about this go-to Mexican lunch menu item?
Burritos have an interesting and mysterious history, starting with their name.
What does “burrito” mean?
If you took Spanish in school, you might remember that the suffix –ito is what we call the diminutive. That means that when you put it at the end of a word, it becomes “little blank.” As an example, let’s break down the word “burrito.” In Spanish, burro means donkey, so burrito means “little donkey.” It’s an odd name for a food, we know, but there are a few stories that explain where the name comes from.
Food on the Go
There are two stories that are similar but are supposed to have happened in different circumstances. In both versions of the story, travelers needed a way to carry their meals while on the road so they wrapped their food in tortillas. One version of the story attributes the idea to the people of Sonora as a group. The inhabitants of this state in northwestern Mexico were frequent travelers who carried their belongings on donkeys. Therefore, they took to calling their tortilla-wrapped meals “little donkeys” after their trusty pack animals.
The second version of the story takes place during the Mexican Revolution. During the 1910s, a man named Juan Méndez was a street vendor in Chihuahua, Mexico. He needed a way to keep his food warm while he was traveling, so he wrapped it in a tortilla. He quickly discovered that wrapping his meal in a tortilla was not only a great way to transport his food on his donkey, but also to eat it! And, just like the Sonorans, he named it after his donkey.
Lunch for the Kids
There is one last story that also involves a street vendor from Chihuahua, but this one dates from the 1940s. We don’t know this vendor’s name, but the story goes that he sold food near a school in Ciudad Juárez, the most populous city in Chihuahua. He wrapped food in tortillas to sell to the schoolchildren, whom he nicknamed burritos, which was slang for “slow” or “dimwitted.” We don’t know whether this was an affectionate nickname or if he thought the kids were dim. But we like to think that it was the former.