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From: Withheld
Date: Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Subject: San Francisco burrito inquiry/request

Hi Burritoeaters,

My name is (name withheld) and I'm contacting you because I'm writing a piece about the San Francisco burrito and the culture it has inspired, much in the same way that pizza has become a part of and pull to New York and Chicago. I was hoping someone from Burritoeater might be able to offer some insight for attribution about the area's burrito culture and heritage.

I know that the burrito itself (like many other popular foods or cuisines of different cultural and ethnic descent) is highly politicized, from the origin stories to different people standing staunchly behind their different go-to restaurants, but I'm interested in how the culture came into existence. I know some people feel that a big part of the burrito's movement into the limelight had to do with the gentrification of the Mission District. Others peg it to the city's economic woes of the '70s and '80s. No matter the real story, it has undoubtedly become a symbol of both Chicano heritage and of an old San Francisco that has yet to be lost.

I am writing this for the debut issue of a women's magazine that will come out of UC Berkeley as a thesis project for a student in their Graduate Journalism Program.

Thank you so much for your help. Please feel free to elaborate on any of these questions or share any feelings or knowledge you may have that these do not touch on.

(name withheld)


To: Withheld
Date: Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 11:45 AM
Subject: San Francisco burrito inquiry/request

Hi (name withheld),

I'm afraid I'm kind of under the gun this week (tons going on, and I leave for Belize on Friday for two weeks), so I don't have quite enough time to answer every single one of your questions. But hopefully you'll find this helpful?

Cheers and season's greetings,

When/how did burrito culture really begin in San Francisco?
Although the first Mission-style super burrito was made in San Francisco in 1961, the city's taqueria scene really began to blow up in the 1980s. I think we all know it remains as vibrant as ever today.

The burrito is popular in other regions of California, but why do you think the city of San Francisco in particular has become such a hub for burrito culture?
The sheer number of taquerias here (well over 150!) certainly plays a role, but beyond that, I think part of it has to do with the burrito's convenience and relative affordability. San Francisco's quite expensive overall; a great burrito here is one hell of a deal.

Why do you think it is something people are so political/rivalrous about? For instance, their local spot, the way a restaurant makes their burritos, the way they order theirs, NorCal vs SoCal?
People always want to feel passionate about something native to their neighborhood or home region, so why not a taqueria or style of food over, say, a sports team? Northern and Southern California have always endured a kind of rivalry, whether it's over water, state politics, Giants vs. Dodgers, even weather patterns. Burritos are another way of expressing this same sort of regional pride.

Why do you think the burrito has become so synonymous with San Francisco when the tamale actually dates further back in the city's history?
Burritos have such personality, you know? Tacos, tamales, and other staples of Mexican cuisine are certainly more 'authentic,' but burritos lend themselves to such variation and are so widely available that it makes sense they've become the face of San Francisco-style Mexican food -- even if they're far more of a Cal-Mex item than a true Mexican one.

Do you think the ability to curate your own burrito the way Mission-style burrito places allow is related to the idea of individuality that is so strong in San Francisco?
I think that's an overly analytical way to look at it, and anyway, I don't think San Francisco is quite the individualist's paradise it's still sometimes portrayed as (although I do think California and the American West, to a degree, is). It's pretty straightforward: If you don't want pico de gallo in your San Francisco burrito, you can say so. And if you don't want lettuce in your McChicken in Tulsa, you can also say so.

Do you think over the years the basic concept of a Mission burrito has remained largely unchanged?
I think so, although I've only been eating San Francisco burritos for 20 years -- you'd have to track down a true old-timer who remembers how they were made in the 1960s. But I think they're still gargantuan pieces of food that are overembellished in, largely, all the right ways.

How have burritos managed to stay so affordable?
It depends on your definition of affordable. I'm seeing $10-11 burritos around town these days -- a marked jump from just ten years ago, when those same burritos were $6-7. Those four dollars may not mean much to most people, but that's a major leap in a relatively short time. A super vegetarian burrito at Taqueria Can-cĂșn is still under $6, though, so there's hope.

Tourists come far and wide to have Mission burritos, but how does the local San Francisco community feel about the trend?
I reckon nine out of ten San Francisco residents adore burritos. But every now and again, I'll encounter someone who says something like 'I can't eat that much food,' or 'I just don't care for them that much.' Fair enough. I do wonder, however, if these same people also don't like sunshine, puppies, and rainbows.

How does the local Latin community specifically feel about it?
I'm a whitey (albeit one who frequents a lot of taquerias). That's not for me to answer.

Is it something they actually eat themselves?
I see Latin Americans eating burritos in the Mission from time to time, yeah.

What makes Mission burritos so good?
If you've ever enjoyed a spectacularly great one, you know.

Do you think Mission burritos are a food that will last? Do you think their popularity will remain?
Yes and yes. They'll almost certainly continue to evolve in modest ways, but I'd be real surprised if, 100 years from now, people of the 22nd century will look back at The Era Of The Ungainly, Yet Delicious Slab with pity and disdain.