GOOD investigates the bastardization of the burrito.
Here at GOOD sandwich week headquarters, one of several lunch-related controversies splitting the office revolves around the question: Is a wrap a sandwich? Staunch advocates have emerged on both sides of this issue, but I’m staying out of it. The wrap defies culinary classification. It's barely even food.
A wrap is classically defined as sandwich filling that, instead of being stuffed between two pieces of bread, is rolled in a unified tortilla-like exterior. In practice, it's a salad burdened with damp meats and cheeses and confined in a waxy green tortilla. In an attempt to lend an air of dignity to the wrap, bonus points are awarded if the filling includes multiple yuppie foods from any era: sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, ponzu. Most wraps don't even attempt to clear this lowly culinary barrier. Chicken Caesar dominates the arena.
I like salad. I like tortillas. I would be perfectly happy snacking on salad and fresh tortillas every day for the rest of my life. When combined, however, a fundamental dissonance emerges that cannot be avoided: One is designed to be eaten cold, the other warm. How have wrap advocates attempted to resolve this contradiction? Either the tortilla is served cold—often fresh out of its industrial plastic, an affront to Mexicans everywhere—or the ambient heat wilts the greens and saps their crunch, an affront to all. Neither possibility is a formula for a successful meal.
My long-standing hatred for wraps dates back to my sophomore year in college, when the 24-hour bagel store across the street from my college newspaper office tragically shut its doors. For several long months, the only late-night food option within blocks was The Wrapp (ugh) Factory, which sold limp, overly sweet versions of the namesake product for an exorbitant $9 apiece. Fortunately, the blight was cleared from my campus landscape within a couple of years, but the damage was done. Six months of wraps changes a person. Even pronouncing the word—wrap—still administers a subtle jab at my gag reflex.
Since the Wrapp Factor's demise, well-intentioned friends have insisted that I should not conflate all wraps with the neighborhood's unfortunate selection. I simply have not "had a good wrap," they tell me. In the name of rigorous reporting, I sampled three more. I approached lunch counters across the city and perused their grotesque collection of wraps, each one chopped in half, its insides spilling pornographically toward the glass. Then, I paid to eat them. All three shared a constellation of troubling traits: tasteless shredded carrots, tasteless romaine lettuce, and brightly-colored tortillas (also tasteless) so rubbery they split when I attempted to choke them down.
Who is responsible for this? My attempt to assign blame for the creation of the wrap turned up conflicting origin stories. A group of San Francisco 20-somethings claimed to have invented the wrap in 1995, but a 1989 Los Angeles Times article mentions the existence of “The Juicy Wrap, a whole-wheat lavash (tortilla-type) sandwich” popular at a West Hollywood restaurant called I Love Juicy. No matter which narrative I choose, I am forced to confront the uncomfortable truth: This culinary atrocity originated in my home state.
It's a shame, because California plays host to so many delicious tortilla-based products. “But isn’t a wrap just a burrito by another name?” you might be asking, particularly if you know that I consider a Gordo burrito humanity’s perfect food. I implore you not to be swayed by surface similarities between these portable foods. It’s true that burritos (as well the many delicious Middle Eastern meals wrapped in pita or lavash) are wraps by the purest definition—they are, in fact, wrapped—but that does not make them fit the 21st-century understanding of the term. One is found served up at authentic holes-in-the-wall and bustling street carts, the other sweating on beds of romaine at uninspired catered luncheons. One is a perfect harmony of meat, rice, and beans; the other a bougie food trend favored by carb-cutters. Most crucially, one employs warm, fresh tortillas. The other might as well be held together with scotch tape.
After all, isn't the quality of any sandwich largely a matter of the quality of the bread? All the jamón ibérico and high-end manchego in the world couldn't be stomached on week-old Wonder Bread, but water-packed supermarket turkey can truly sing when sandwiched between two slices of great sourdough. I’ve never had a wrap made with a good tortilla, and I bet you haven’t either. We have a word for that: Burrito.