Chimichangapalooza

What’s amusing about this kerfuffle is that the chimichanga is the Mexican-food equivalent of chop suey, which is a dish invented in San Francisco, and no one in China had ever heard of. It’s not from south of the border, but originated in Tucson, at the best restaurant in town when it comes to Tucsonian cuisine. And most places in other locales don’t really know how to do it, often adding beans or rice, making it a mere fried burrito. It’s best filled with carne seca, an El Charro specialty that is also not widely available. The other things that are local to southern Arizona, but hasn’t made it much farther is a cheese crisp (flour tortilla topped with monterey jack and broiled open face to melt it, with or without jalapenos, then sliced and served like a pizza) and green-corn tamales. I was eating them in the seventies when I lived in Tucson, working for the L-5 Society, before most people had ever heard of them.

[Update a few minutes later]

I see that Prudence Paine is amused at the ignorance as well. Though I take issue with her denigration of them. They are excellent, and better than most Mexican dishes, in my opinion. I suspect her antipathy toward them is based on a misplaced fear of fat. When I used to eat them in Tucson, they were fried in lard, and that’s actually much healthier than low-fat, or vegetable oils. The bad thing about them is the flour tortilla itself, not the fact that it’s fried.

22 thoughts on “Chimichangapalooza

    1. Rand Simberg Post author

      Chimichangas are not Tex-Mex, which is a different cuisine than Sonoran (Tex-Mex is based on Chihuahuan food). It (Sonoroan) is also (in my humble opinion) superior. And New Mexican is something different yet, and also better than Tex-Mex. It’s like the various cuisines of China.

      1. Larry J

        Funny thing, when my wife and I were in China last year, we found that we like the “Chinese” food in America better than what we ate there.

  1. Edward Wright

    chop suey, which is a dish invented in San Francisco, and no one in China had ever heard of

    Are you sure of that? I remember a show on the Food Network saying “chop suey” is simply the Chinese word for “miscellaneous scraps.”

    1. Der Schtumpy

      Edward,
      your right about the ‘wording’. But said misc scraps were served to American gamblers, sailors and dock workers along the Barbary Coast, of San Francisco. Fortune Cookies are an American thing too.

      1. Edward Wright

        I don’t question that a dish called chop suey was served in San Francisco.

        I’m questioning the statement that the words “chop suey” were never heard in China.

        My understanding is that “chop suey” was akin to what we would call “leftovers.” It’s not that it didn’t exist, but it wasn’t something anyone would ever ask for in a restaurant (unless they were beggars or ignorant Americans who didn’t speak the language).

        Again, this knowledge comes from television, so it could be completely wrong.

  2. Jardinero1

    Add this to my list of non-Mexican, Mexican foods along with Tacos and Fajitas. What do Mexicans really eat anyway?

  3. Josh Reiter

    Well for what’s it’s worth Wikipedia says that there is a claim that chimichangas did originate in Mexico as basically a super-sized flauta. But yes New Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex are wildly different. Tex-Mex is much heartier with meat being the centerpiece of nearly all the dishes (Texas was a cattle state after all). New Mexican cuisine is much lighter and more vegetable based with it’s reliance on green and red chili’s (Green Chili stew anyone?). Any meat is most generally chicken and any beef that is used it of the dried variety. Which forms the basis of one of my favorite type of enchiladas: Machaca Beef Enchiladas with Chipotle Sauce. Dammit this is making me hungry!

    1. Josh Reiter

      Hmm, I guess I was wrong when I said vegetables formed the basis of New Mexican cuisine. I should say legumes and chili’s which are both technically fruits. One can find plenty of vegetarian dishes at a New Mexican joint but vegetarian and Tex-Mex in the same sentence is near blasphemy. Also New Mexican food is extremely hot & spicy compared to Tex-Mex. I made the mistake when the waitress brought out chips and what I thought was salsa to the table. I got a big dollop of sauce on a chip and threw it down only discover that it was really stewed smoked red chili’s and their chili’s seeds, and that’s it. Yowza that was hot stuff!

    1. Der Schtumpy

      B,
      only if you wrap the chimichanga beef in thinly sliced beef (instead of the tortillas) before deep frying it and then saucing it. It would be like that Bacon Bomb Meatloaf thing, but with Mexican spiced flair.

      Hmmm, if I find that on a menu somewhere later, I’ll sue!

    2. Josh Reiter

      It’s not paleo but it upholds the axiom that everything tastes better when you deep fry it. Although I suppose you could wrap it in Kelp instead of a flour tortilla and deep fry it and it would probably be edible.

  4. George Turner

    Nachos are barely Mexican, invented in 1943 by Ignacio Anaya at the Victory Club, just across the border from Eagle Pass Texas, for a bunch of Army Air Corps wives who showed up when the regular cook was out.

    And tortilla chips were invented in Los Angeles by an insurance broker’s wife. One of his friends talked him into starting a tortilla business and the early tortilla machines had a high defect rate, so they had to figure out something to do with the rejects. The solution was to fry them and sell them in bags like potato chips. Mexicans made tortillas by hand and so had never encountered the problem.

    More interestingly, the nacho chip was invented before the mass produced tortilla chip. Ignacio (“Nacho” for short) couldn’t find the cook, so he cut up some old tortillas, put Wisconsin cheddar cheese and a pickled jalapeno slice on them, and ran them through the broiler. This Air Corps wives loved them, and he named the dish “Nachos especiales”.

  5. Andrea Harris

    Not to mention, all the showy outrage completely ignores the fact that “Latinos” are not one monolithic bloc of culture and political beliefs in the US. The Cuban-Americans I grew up among would not have understood why they should be upset about “chimichangas” since Cuban food is nothing like Mexican, and does not feature tortillas in any shape or form. (Also instead of chili pepper, Cuban cuisine relies on garlic.) Also, unlike most other Hispanic groups in the US, Cubans are mostly Republican — or they were when I still lived in Miami.

  6. ryan

    Having grown up in Tucson, AND having learned to cook for a Mexican wife, I think I might have something to add here. Rand is correct, TexMex and NewMexican are NOT Sonoran. Plus Sonoran is not Real Mexican. One of the fastest ways to know if what you are eating is “Real” Mexican is the cheese. Orange/yellow cheese wouldn’t be served in Mexico (well maybe at a cheep northern boarder city, I’m looking at you Nogales street vendor). Most all Mexican cooking uses white cheeses. Many of the dishes are rather healthy if you don’t over do them (las most restaurants try to do). Most all dishes center around the corn tortilla, some meat (more pork than I grew up with) and some sort of sauce (green or red salsa can be use 100 different ways, but don’t forget the Mole).

  7. Prudence

    lol. i’m sorry to have seemed to have denigrated your chimichanga. anything in moderation is okay by me. it’s just that my chimichanga experiences have been confined to chain restaurant versions. i much prefer authentic homestyle cuisine when i can get it. there’s just something about the way a food expresses its culture. should i make it out to arizona one day, perhaps you’ll be kind enough to point me in the direction of a good, representative, deep-fried meal.

Comments are closed.