Breakfast burritos are a popular meal, especially in the southwestern United States. They typically consist of eggs, potatoes, cheese, and bacon or sausage wrapped up in a flour tortilla. While breakfast burritos have become a staple of American cuisine, their origins and status as “Mexican food” is debatable.
The History and Origins of Breakfast Burritos
The breakfast burrito likely originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1970s or 1980s. The earliest known mention of “breakfast burritos” on a menu was at Tia Sophia’s restaurant in Santa Fe in 1975. Burritos were already popular in American Tex-Mex cuisine by this time, but stuffed breakfast burritos were an innovation.
There are a few origin stories around who exactly invented the breakfast burrito in Santa Fe. According to Suzanne Jones’ book “Santa Fe School of Cooking: Celebrating the Foods of the Southwest”, a local restaurant owner named Bobby Fuller is said to have assembled the first breakfast burrito when he wrapped bacon, potatoes, and eggs in a tortilla for an early morning customer. This occurred sometime between 1975 and 1980 at his restaurant on Agua Fria Street in Santa Fe.
Another account credits Dos Hermanos, a food cart in Santa Fe, with selling innovative breakfast burritos in the 1970s. The cart’s owner, Felipe Crespo, claimed to be the first to put breakfast fillings like eggs, bacon, and beans into a flour tortilla. His children may have also played a role in assembling and naming the novel handheld breakfast.
While the exact inventor is unclear, it seems breakfast burritos arose through experimentation with burritos by restaurateurs in Santa Fe in the 1970s. The concept spread quickly through New Mexico as a convenient, portable, and filling breakfast meal.
Are Burritos Themselves Mexican Food?
To consider if breakfast burritos are Mexican food, it helps to examine the origins of burritos themselves. Burritos likely originated in northern Mexico, though their early history is debated.
Some historians trace burritos back to Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) in the 19th century. Cowboys needed a practical meal that was easy to eat on the trail while herding cattle. Wrapping up meat, beans, and vegetables in a wheat tortilla was a convenient solution. The first burrito recipes appear in the 1895 “El Cocinero Mexicano” cookbook by Mexico City natives.
However, others find no evidence of burritos in Mexico until the 1900s. Burritos and modern flour tortillas may have instead been popularized by Mexican immigrants in the Southwest US around this time. For instance, some early 20th century accounts describe burritos sold at train stations in Los Angeles and San Antonio.
The earliest definitive evidence of burritos on Mexican soil comes from 1937. The Historical Dictionary of American Food and Drink cites a 1937 men’s magazine article describing burritos sold by street vendors in Guanajuato, Mexico. Burritos were still not widespread in Mexico though, and considered more Tex-Mex than Mexican food at the time.
In summary, burritos likely originated sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, either as cowboy fare in Northern Mexico or as Mexican-American cuisine. They were popularized and spread through the US Southwest before becoming common street food in Mexico after 1937.
Are Burritos Authentic Mexican Cuisine?
Given this history, burritos occupy a grey area between Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican cuisine. They are not mentioned in early Mexican cookbooks and showed up later in the country’s interior. Mexico’s traditional staple foods also tend to be corn-based rather than wheat-based. However, burritos are now very popular in Mexico, and ingredients like beans and tortillas are certainly authentic.
Most food scholars conclude that burritos are Mexican-American fusion cuisine. They combine Mexican staples like tortillas and beans with Spanish rice and Tex-Mex preferences like cheddar cheese. So while burritos use authentic Mexican ingredients, their specific combinations and techniques came together over time in the US Southwest rather than traditional Mexican cooking.
The Question of Breakfast Burritos as Mexican Food
If burritos themselves have a debatable claim to being authentic Mexican food, where does that leave breakfast burritos? Breakfast burritos combine burrito components with typical American breakfast fillings like eggs, bacon, and potatoes.
There is certainly no long history of eating burrito-like creations for breakfast in Mexico. The very concept of a breakfast burrito seems to have been invented in New Mexico in the 1970s. Santa Fe restaurateurs took the Tex-Mex burrito and reimagined it as a hearty American breakfast meal.
However, while breakfast burritos were invented north of the border, their ingredients are not wholly un-Mexican. Eggs and potatoes are eaten at breakfast in Mexico, and bacon less so. Wrapping them into a tortilla burrito could be seen as employing an authentic Mexican vessel to contain familiar Mexican breakfast foods.
Common Arguments on Whether Breakfast Burritos Are Mexican Food
There are good arguments on both sides of the “Are breakfast burritos Mexican food?” debate:
- Against: Breakfast burritos were clearly invented in the US Southwest, not Mexico. Mexicans traditionally eat different breakfast items like eggs, beans, and fresh cheese wrapped in warm tortillas.
- For: Breakfast burritos use ingredients found in both American and Mexican breakfasts. Putting breakfast foods into a tortilla burrito format represents a fusion of authentic Mexican and Southwestern techniques.
- Against: Burritos themselves are not fully authentic Mexican cuisine, but a Mexican-American fusion food. So breakfast burritos are twice removed from true Mexican culinary tradition.
- For: Santa Fe’s breakfast burritos grow out of northern Mexico’s flour tortilla and ranching traditions. They represent an authentic regional Mexican-American cuisine, just not of central Mexico.
There are good faith arguments on both sides, though the evidence seems to weigh slightly against breakfast burritos being part of traditional Mexican cuisine. However, that does not mean breakfast burritos can’t be considered a legitimate regional Mexican-American food, like Tex-Mex cuisine.
Regional Perceptions of Breakfast Burritos as Mexican Food
Within the US, perceptions of breakfast burritos as Mexican food vary by region. General knowledge of whether breakfast burritos originated in Mexico or the US also differs.
In states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada where breakfast burritos are most popular, most residents do not consider them traditional Mexican food. For instance, a survey showed only 9% of New Mexicans believed breakfast burritos originated in Mexico. Southwest residents generally understand breakfast burritos were invented locally in the US.
However, breakfast burritos are seen as a regional staple food, rooted in local Mexican-American culinary traditions. Many Southwesterners take pride in breakfast burritos as an original Southwest creation and contribution to Mexican-American cuisine. Outside the Southwest though, perceptions vary more.
In California, breakfast burritos are also popular and part of the local cuisine. However, the large Hispanic population here is largely of Mexican descent rather than New Mexican. Among both Hispanics and non-Hispanics in California, there seems to be wider perception of breakfast burritos as authentically Mexican food.
One survey showed 40% of Hispanic Californians believed breakfast burritos originated in Mexico. This perhaps reflects less familiarity with New Mexican culinary history. Breakfast burritos are seen as part of California’s overall Mexican food culture rather than a Southwest tradition.
Other US Regions
In other parts of the US without a strong Southwest or Mexican cultural presence, ideas about breakfast burritos vary. Some view them as a trendy Californian health food, while others see them as authentic Mexican cuisine.
In general, the farther from the US-Mexico border and Southwest, the less knowledge there is around breakfast burritos’ origins. To many Americans, any dish involving a tortilla is broadly perceived as Mexican, though breakfast burritos are rarely found in Mexico.
Perceptions of Breakfast Burritos in Mexico
In Mexico, breakfast burritos are still largely viewed as American food. Burritos themselves were only popularized there in the last 50 years. Adding untraditional American ingredients likes eggs, potatoes, and bacon to a burrito moves it even farther from traditional Mexican cuisine.
Among Mexicans, breakfast burritos are seen as a type of regional US-Mexican fusion food. They are not considered usual breakfast fare except in the far northern border regions of Mexico that have greater US culinary influence.
However, breakfast burritos have been growing in popularity in tourist regions of Mexico. As some wealthier Mexicans and travelers have exposure to American food trends, they have been introduced to breakfast burritos. But overall, breakfast burritos remain far more common north of the border.
Conclusion: A New Regional Cuisine
Breakfast burritos are best considered a regional Mexican-American cuisine. While they appropriate the Mexican burrito concept, breakfast fillings of eggs, potato, bacon, and cheese represent a clear American influence. Breakfast burritos were likely invented in the 1970s Southwest US rather than having deep roots in Mexican culinary tradition.
Within northern Mexico and the US Southwest, breakfast burritos now certainly occupy a place as a specialty regional food. They form part of the broader Mexican-American cuisine though they did not originate from authentic Mexican cooking. Outside the Southwest, breakfast burritos are still often viewed purely as Mexican food, though this misrepresents their more nuanced regional history.
In the last fifty years, breakfast burritos have already attained an iconic status in the Southwestern US regional cuisine. They represent a modern fusion food that combines Mexican burrito tradition with beloved American breakfast ingredients. While not originally from Mexico itself, breakfast burritos can be appreciated as a satisfying regional creation.