Over the next week or so I plan to take a closer took at what I am calling The Dublin Burrito Bubble. Cities are known to have collective obsessions, and Dublin is no different. Like New York’s cupcake craze of the early naughties or LA’s recent giddiness over local food trucks, Dublin has fallen in love with the burrito.
Mexican food is a relatively recent import to the Emerald Isle. When I was studying at Trinity from 2001-2002, there was one Mexican restaurant in town and the main ingredient was melted cheese. If you wanted to do some Mexican cooking at home, it was nigh on impossible to find black beans in the super-market, and full on impossible to find an avacado. Chile con Carne was about as Mexican a dish as the Irish had back then. And that was just bolognese sauce on rice instead of pasta.
Today everything has changed. As I write, there is not one, not two, but six burrito joints (two of which have more than one location) in Dublin. Considering the size of the city, this is a lot. We are inching towards overabundance. There is also now a fantastically excellent up-scale Mexican restaurant smack in the city centre. The original Mexican, Alcapulco, is still there. It still deals mostly in melted cheese.
I am not complaining about the mushrooming of burrito joints around town. I love Mexican food. Having grown up in LA, Mexican food is a part of who I am. Guacamole makes my heart feel light and margaritas thrill me. I love the colors of Mexican food and the myriad flavors that fill your mouth; from smokey chipotle chilies to a crisp, tart hit of lime, from the depth of a long-cooked molé to the salted rim of a cold margarita, Mexican food excites a lot of taste buds. I am relieved that good Mexican has found its way to Ireland. But I am also worried about this “Burrito Bubble” which is inflating at a rapid pace. New burrito places are popping up at an alarming rate. We all know what they say about “too much of a good thing.” You would think the Irish would know better than to jump onto the speeding train of a”fad.” Luckily, I don’t think burritos have the power to take down the government.
It is easy to see why a burrito would have such an effect on this city. Dubliners are sandwich lovers from way back. A sandwich is the lunchtime go-to. Wraps were hip in the late 90s. It’s no surprise the burrito followed suit as ethnic tastes started to expand. A burrito is more than a sandwich: it is a full meal wrapped in a tortilla. It doesn’t cost too much. A burrito can be eaten with one hand. As Dublin became a major EU player, it needed a meal to eat on the run. A meal that would say: “hey, we’re hip, we’re diverse, we can deal with spice.”
Burritos have lots of ingredients that Irish people already like: chicken, pork, beef, rice, and cheese. It has has exciting new “ethnic” additions like salsas, beans and guacamole. There is the option for spice, and the chance to have it “your way” which appeals to all our modern sensibilities. Best of all, looks-wise, any of these burrito bars could have been transplanted right from the streets of Boston or NYC.
I am going to be an investigative journalist for the next little while, and I am going to try to eat a burrito from as many of the burrito joints as I can. Full disclosure: I may write about a few from memory; even I can’t take that many beans that often. I am going to see exactly what each of these new burrito joints offers to this city besides stomach aches. Stay tuned. Viva México!