Burrito semantics

As you’ve noted several times, Taco Bell, and Mexican food in general, is often just the same ingredients in different permutations. Why is it then, that you can throw a bunch of red sauce, cheese sauce, etc. on a burrito and it’s still called a burrito (though, to be fair, sometimes called a “wet” burrito)? Shouldn’t this merit an entirely new name? In my mind, much of the simple pleasure of a burrito is the portability and ease of consumption via my hands. When you add sauce, or whatever, that entire dynamic changes, which in my mind necessitates a new name.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I live in fear of eating at a new establishment and ordering a burrito, wondering whether it will show up “wet” or in its usual simple glory. What is your take on this issue, as well as your “wet/dry” preference? Why isn’t this a bigger deal?

MJ Scalese, via email.

This is a good and important question. In at least a couple of places, I’ve seen “wet” burritos billed as “smothered” or “enchilada-style.” But then isn’t that just an enchilada?

No, it turns out it isn’t. Enchiladas are made of corn tortillas, whereas burritos use  wheat. The Wikipedia tells me that to be an enchilada, the tortilla needs to be covered in a chili-pepper sauce, since “enchilada is the past participle of the Spanish verb enchilar, ‘to add chile pepper to.'”

It’s awesome that there’s a verb for that, but none of this helps solve the problem you identify. But you know who does?

That’s right, it’s Taco Bell.

Longtime Taco Bell enthusiasts may remember the Enchirito in its original incarnation, when it was made from a corn tortilla. But since the late 1990s, the Taco Bell Enchirito has been essentially a “wet” or “smothered” or “enchilada-style” burrito, only with a far less confusing and/or cumbersome name.

And since that name is a portmanteau of “enchilada” and “burrito,” it seems to perfectly describe the menu item currently being served as an enchilada-style burrito, no? So get on it, people who own Mexican restaurants that are not Taco Bells: Start naming your stuff after Taco Bell items. Also, start serving MexiMelts. They’re delicious.


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