Each week, one of our favorite writers is drafting a list of every instance their favorite food saved their life. From slices of pizza to bagels, tacos to tamales, these emotional eats remind us that food is so much more than fuel.
I have no qualms with sticking anyone who stands between me and my burrito. The hankering for one begins innocuously enough: it’s a thought that flits by and beckons me. I catch it, cup it in my hands and examine it. Reverie ensues.
First, I feel my fingertips sinking into tinfoil and leaving dimples in their wake. Then, I see myself shamelessly lapping up all of the unctuous goodness trapped in the grease paper beneath. And finally, I imagine reaching the inner sanctum where a myriad of mythical ingredients meet one another and ergo, my mouth. In California, this Edenic event is never far off; but in London, it’s an absolute crapshoot.
If you look back into the annals, if you could even call them that, of Los Angeles’ history, you will see that burritos are nothing short of a culinary cornerstone. If it seems like I’m elevating this tortilla-wrapped wonder to godly heights, it’s because I am. It is firmly planted in my pantheon of foodstuff.
I’ve even conjured up my own atavistic world to inhabit when I eat one. I’m in Chihuahua, Mexico wearing a camisole and one of those slip skirts. It’s high noon, but an early afternoon wind is nigh. A man on a burro trots down the main dirt road. The burro brays and I rouse myself. The leathered and smiling man hands me what I’ve been waiting for. I savagely sink my teeth in and all is well in the world again.
But all is not well in the world. All is shit. I’ve just moved to London and it’s all shit: it pisses rain everyday, buses are always overtaking cyclists and the burritos are a travesty. Sad-looking biscuits and mushy bangers and mash abound and I’m left to my own devices, which are actually non existent because I ran over my phone with my heavy-ass electric blue bicycle.
I miss home like hell.
It’s an early evening in September and I’m near Westminster Cathedral. I clock a few idle construction workers ahead. They must have answers. Hobble-footed because of my stupidly poor choice in shoe, I approach them.
“Hi. Do you know anywhere nearby that does a decent burrito?”
“Dunno. Where you from love?”
“Ha. Nobody’s perfect eh?”
“Right. Thanks for that.”
As I’m waiting for my train to arrive, trudging through the fluorescent-lit shit hole that is Victoria Station, a burrito outpost unveils itself in my periphery. I hear it whispering sweet nothings like “mi casa es tu casa” in my ear. If I am bold, mighty forces will come to my aid.
I approach the counter like a Dickensian chimney sweep. Pray tell, how do you prepare your burrito, fair maiden? She smirks in that demonic way people in customer service do, but her hands look nimble enough to roll and the smells emanating forth are intoxicating. I fumble for pound coins, thrust them at her, and scurry away with my treasure. I remind myself that all is well in the world and bite into it. I am so ravenous that I’ve swallowed scraps of tinfoil. I could care less.
But alas, the fates have turned on me for I taste cardamom in my burrito. What the fuck? I continue to eat it anyway, all the while berating myself for letting it get this far. Home recedes further and further into the distance. The labyrinthine yellow brick road stretches out endlessly before me. There is no Wizard of Oz wrapped in a cape made of flour tortilla. It’s all a hoax.
Four months later, in the dead of winter, I still haven’t found a suitable burrito. All I see are boxes of porridge, baskets of sprouting potatoes, and rain. There are only so many cups of tea I could take. No I do not want another cup of tea, sir. I want a burrito. The madness must stop. Some days before the much dreaded onslaught better known as the holidays, a friend tells me that 60 miles Northwest of London is Oxford. I know Oxford.
“What’s there other than the university?”
“Posh twats on bicycles, a Waterstones and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oh, and a burrito shop you can’t find in London. You keep banging on about that, don’t you?”
The next thing I know I’m taking a pilgrimage by way of the X90 bus to Oxford. I don’t even know who I am anymore. An empty sack of flesh and despair.
“Next stop, High Street. Alight here for High Street.”
Pitt Rivers will have to wait. But so will my burrito, it seems, because as I move with alacrity down the High Street, almost tripping over myself with mirth, it dawns on me: I am not hungry, I am lonely. And as pathetic as it sounds that something as ridiculous as a burrito could attenuate my sadness, it’s a panacea that’s proven itself time and time again in my world. We all have our foibles. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, an overwhelming desire for a burrito in desperate, lonely times really isn’t that crazy.
“Can I have a chicken burrito please?”
I am face to face with the tortilla-wrapped wonder yet again, this time with a deeper understanding of self. All is well in the world. I peel back the tinfoil and—
We have a problem. The man must have microwaved my burrito at the last minute, unbeknownst to me, because what we have here is “stickage.” You know, when the tinfoil clings to the tortilla and you sit there trying to painstakingly pick it off until you come dangerously close to throwing it at the perpetrator’s head. How could he? I despair silently, the English way, and don’t make a fuss. That is, until I meet the morsels of bone waiting for me within. This is grim. I rewrap it, throw it in the bin and slip out the door as if it never happened. Pitt Rivers awaits me.
It’s spring and I haven’t thought of a burrito for months. I cycle everyday, with a cognitive map to boot. I offer my friends cups of tea when they’re feeling ill or sad. I’ve even acquired a taste for Marmite. But one day, this day, an inexplicable yearning for that Californian delicacy I thought I’d left behind emerges. But this time, before the madcap plotting begins, I stop myself. There’s a Tesco down the road with all the necessary supplies: heaps of potato and tubs of crème fraiche and dozens of eggs and stacks of tortilla and rings of chorizo, oh my.
I grab baby blue and cruise down the road with a tote on each shoulder. I’m ready.
When I return, I lay it all out before me. I construct the burrito myself, not in the least bit abstemious when it comes to portions, and take a massive bite.
It is fucking exquisite. And I made it myself.
There is no place like home.
There is no place like home.