Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Mystery of the Burrito

Recently, my wife and I went to an awesome restaurant called Hot Heads (free plug 'cause they are that good), which specializes in Mexican food that—surprisingly—will burn the first layer of skin from the inside of your mouth while it savors the deliciousness. It’s a local chain that has a wide variety of menu items to choose from, with the only real drawback being that it takes forever for us to drive to one. (This is one of those instances where it is probably a good thing, lest I eat a spicy pork burrito for every single day for the remainder of my life.)

Anyway, since we travel so far for it, every time I go I am tempted to play it safe—I hate to have the trip end with me ordering something that I don’t like, and then have a long and stomach-grumbling trip back home. Thankfully, most of the menu is fairly standard, so there aren’t a whole lot of pitfalls to just slapping everything delicious found in the kitched and wrap it up in yet another delicious thing and devouring it like some sort of savage animal.

Still, there’s a few interesting items that stick out, one of them being that they offer “barbacoa” as a meat option. Now, I have occasionally eaten my share of non-standard meat products, but I had no idea what this meant. My best guess would have been a cross between an invasion of Russia and Jane Fonda.* When I asked the nice clerk what, exactly, barbacoa was, she gave an unnecessarily lengthy description about the processing of steamed meat being spiced with chili flavoring instead  of giving me a more direct answer of what animal it came from. “Beef,” she said when pressed, with more than a little hesitation.

So I had my wife look it up on the internet. It turns out that “barbacoa” is where we get the word “barbeque” from, so my initial thought is that this was simply some sort of spice flavoring. The unnecessarily lengthy description (again) given on the ever-accurate Wikipedia is that it is a Taino (Caribbean) dish that “generally refers to meat…slow-cooked over an open fire or (more traditionally) in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves.” It also gives the convenient safety valve of “this interpretation is loose” which is a fancy-lawyer way of saying "wrong."

Still, I was unconvinced. To me, the entire thing reeked of ritualistic ceremony and not some skewed final product of tribal culinary school. Who digs holes in the ground, shoves meat in there, and then covers it up with aloe? And then proceeds to eat it? That doesn’t evolve organically from any sort of food preparation; that is what the town cleric decides after a morning with Mary Jane. Tellingly, this ceremony is non-meat specific, ranging everywhere from sheep to pork to beef. 

Finally, it dawned on me…the existence of barbacoa solves a huge mystery. Barbacoa is actually chupacabra meat. That’s right—that’s the big secret. Caribbean communities have taken their revenge on the legendary goat-suckers by throwing them in a pit, lighting them on fire, absolving their guilt by throwing skin lotion leaves on top, and then disguises the taste of evil with chili powder and eats it for dinner. It answers all of the questions and fits everything perfectly, from the reasoning behind the ritual to my woefully underdeveloped knowledge of anthropology. It answers so many questions I can’t possibly see how I can be wrong.

But with how good that burrito tasted, it has to be right.

*Both of which, I am told, were famous for the mass grinding of meat.

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