Chimichangas, though you will find them on menus at many Mexican restaurants, including Chirrion Mexican Grill in Forest Park, did not originate in Mexico. Just as crab Rangoon came not from Myanmar but rather San Francisco, and just as Caesar salad came not from Italy but from Tijuana, Mexico, the popular Mexican-seeming chimichanga came from Arizona.
The L.A. Times repeats the generally accepted story that in the late 1940s/early 1950s, Monica Flin, “a madcap fortysomething who owned and lived at El Charro Café” in downtown Tucson, was whipping up a midnight snack in the kitchen, when one of the many nieces she was babysitting bumped into her and dislodged the bean burrito she was holding. The bean burrito fell into a pot of hot oil, and it became what may have been the world’s first chimichanga.
Conception-by-accident has led to many of our favorite foods.
Potato chips, an undeniably popular snack the world over, seems to have been invented in the mid-19th century by a chef named George Crum, who became angry when guests complained his French fries were not crispy enough. So he cut them thin and fried them in hot oil — crispy enough for you?! — and the rest is history.
Chocolate chip cookies, according to the Christian Science Monitor, were born when Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, was making Butter Drop Do cookies for her guests. The recipe required baker’s chocolate, but she was all out, so she added chunks of Nestle’s semisweet chocolate. She thought the chunks — or “chips” — would melt, but they didn’t, and she accidentally became the inventor of one of America’s favorite cookies.
Even the invention of beer, attributed to the ancient Sumerians, may have been discovered by accident when someone left bread or grains in the rain. Ambient yeasts in the air would have stimulated the grains to ferment, and at some point, a brave soul took a sip and, whoa, not bad!
Upon reflection, the invention of the chimichanga seems inevitable. Go to a county fair, and what will they be frying up to please the masses of fair-goers? Answer: everything! From spaghetti (in Texas, no kidding) to ice cream bars, a trip to the fryer is a way to “add value” to somewhat common foods. The value added by frying is that the exterior becomes pleasantly crisp and the whole thing may become *tastier*. That’s because fats, including oil, carry flavor. Many of the flavors in foods are fat-soluble, so the food’s delicious essences spread into the oily fat and become more apparent to our palates. In this way, frying makes many foods taste better.
We much prefer a fried burrito to a regular burrito, and though the chimichanga at Chirrion Mexican Grill is, to the best of my recollection, the first chimichanga I ever ordered in a restaurant, I now want more.