Enchiladas date back to Mayan times, perhaps earlier, when the practice of rolling corn tortillas around other foods made for easy meals. In the lake region of the Valley of Mexico, the people traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish. As we know them now, enchiladas are still corn tortillas rolled around a filling, including various meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables or a combination and covered with a chili pepper sauce, topped with cheese.
In a class by itself, Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped with a cream-based white sauce, such as béchamel, which was derived from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.
Burritos are also rolled tortillas but made from wheat, stuffed with rice, beans and/or meat, called ‘coçito’ in the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos may have been created in times of war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily during the Mexican/American strife of the early 1900s. Because they are enclosed and easily eaten standing up, they make great street food.
Quesadillas are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to be folded in half, and then typically filled with Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern regions of Mexico and can also contain chicken or shrimp.
Arriving late at the party, chimichangas made their appearance in 1946 thanks to Woody Johnson, founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them when he put some burritos into a deep fryer as an experiment at his original Phoenix restaurant Woody’s El Nido. The name means “trinket” loosely translated.
For those cooks who want to re-create their favorite dishes at home, you might want to include these basics on your shopping list:
Although most towns and cities host the popular fast food and chain restaurants, like Taco Bell, Del Taco, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the best Mexican foods can be found in small, family-owned shops, or in an area often called “Old Town” which can be a delightful mix of restaurants and street vendors, all serving up our favorites. Buen apetito.
Author Dale Phillip resides in Southern California, home of the best Mexican restaurants. Her favorite dishes include tamales and enchiladas, and she drowns them in red sauce and lime juice, along with spicy peppers and salsa. She invites you to view her many articles in the Food and Drink category, and her blog: http://myfriendlyu.blogspot.com/