Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God Bless the Burrito: Osaka Weekend: Part I

I've said it before and I'll say it again: burritos bring people together.

Example #1:

When I marched into Bank of America last year, primed to pull every last cent out of my account and move them all to a less sheisty institution, it was the love of burritos that kept me loyal to B of A. I sat down with one of the suit-and-ties, expecting the inevitably boring bank transaction, the lame banker jokes and the fake, forced, laughter. But then...

"You're from California?" he asked, squinting at the computer screen. "So am I!"

It's only logical that a conversation about California quickly turned to burritos: how we love burritos, how we miss burritos, how we don't love Seattle burritos, how we should run away together and eat burritos until sour cream pulses through our veins and we cry Tapatio tears.

The next thing I know he's reversing the charges on my account, permanently removing a monthly checking fee that had plagued me for years, moving my savings into a high interest account and giving me homemade chocolate chip cookies from his desk drawer. I considered canceling my afternoon plans so we could have cocktails in his cubicle. The other bankers ceased their fake guffaws. They were on high alert; they detected real laughter. They were suspicious as to how two people in a bank could be having such a good time.

It's the burritos, man. I'm telling you. They breed trust. They are a gateway drug to friendship. I would never trust a burrito hater and I don't recommend you do if ever in the unfortunate situation of being faced with one.

What does any of this have to do with Japan? Well, if you just calm down for a second I'll tell you. Jeez.

I'd been hearing about El Pancho, a Mexican restaurant in Osaka, for months. Two different people have told me that when they visit the city, they try and eat all of their meals here. I have to admit I was skeptical. One of these people is from England, the other from the American midwest. Not exactly the food capitals of the world. Uh oh. I felt a bad bad side of me start to creep in. I was morphing into my evil alter ego: Snobby McFoodie Pants. First I thought: "Pffffft. What do you bitches know about tacos? Have you even had real Mexican food?" Then I thought: "Pffffft. You're in Osaka! A food lover's paradise! Why would you eat that fake ass Mexican bullshit when you could be eating amazing Japanese food?"

Now, five months into my stay in Japan and desperate for anything wrapped in a tortilla, I was determined to track down this El Pancho during my weekend trip. Because burritos also breed good luck and sympathize with the directionally challenged, El Pancho turned out to be right down the street from the club where I was going to see an improv show. It was perfect! I'd treat myself to a Mexican dinner and head to the show. I managed to find the restaurant in the crowded Shinsaibashi district, walked into the elevator, and went to push the number 8, but it was already glowing.

"Are you going to El Pancho?" the Japanese girl asked in flawless English. I told her I was. "Are you meeting friends here?" I told her I wasn't. Two minutes later I was sitting at a long table with her and twelve of her chatty friends, most of them foreigners like me, ordering a Dos Equis and drooling over the extensive menu.

"How do you all know each other?" I asked the girl on my left.
"Oh, we all work for the same company here in Osaka. We're English teachers for AEON."

Dudes. Would you believe me if I told you that's the same school that I work for? Well, it is! Weird, huh? A very coincidental coincidence made possible by the magic burrito. So that is exactly what I ordered. Not a magic burrito, but a chicken one topped with red enchilada sauce, melted cheese and crowned with splotches of sour cream and guacamole. Some of the gals and I also split a quesadilla. There was Cholula on the table and two legitimately spicy homemade salsas served with chips. Admittedly, it was not the best burrito in the world, but it was pretty good (really good for Japan: the only other "Mexican food" I've had here involved cut up hot dogs floating around in a greasy cheese puddle) and I was in heaven. Not even Snobby McFoodie Pants dared to rear her ugly head. I was eating refried beans! There was hot sauce! It was like the crisis in the Middle East had finally ended. Time reversed and the earthquake in Chile never happened. People finally stopped saying "That's what she said!" Everything in the world was right again.

God bless the burrito.


  1. Hi Rachel,

    I ate at this place when I lived in Osaka a couple of years ago. It was crazy expensive, non?

    I was wondering if you've heard of Kansai Scene magazine? It has tons of great info about the Kansai area. And maybe they'd publish your work!


  2. Erin: that's funny you mention Kansai Scene because I just picked one up when I was in Osaka and I want to try and write for them!

    Yeah, it was kinda expensive ($12 burrito anyone?) but when one is in the midst of a life threatening burrito crisis it is best to throw money at the problem. I did draw the line at a $7 glass of horchata. Bitches be trippin'.

  3. What part of CA are you from? Do you ever venture to La Jolla? My boyfriend's family is from there, and every time we visit we make almost daily trips to Los Dos Pedros - home of the most amazing carne asada burrito you've ever had the pleasure of meeting. (I HAVE been known to pack one in my suitcase to enjoy once back in Seattle...)

  4. Kim,

    I'm from the Bay Area, so my loyalty is with Taqueria Cancun in San Francisco's Mission District. But, my taco truck love was born in Chico and I will always associate the beloved town with great Mexican food. My family lives in San Diego so I do dabble in those burritos as well. I'll have to check out Los Dos Pedros sometime! There's a really excellent fish burrito at a taco stand in Ocean Beach. Just sayin'.

  5. OMG. You must of been so excited to see your old pal Cholula. Did you take Senor Tapatio out of your purse so they could do a lil dance together?