When you are thinking about the greatest moments in history, there are a few which obviously come to mind. The victory of the British over the French at Agincourt. The Battle of Stalingrad. However, these are but footnotes in history compared to the clash of culinary goliaths which took place on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in Oxford. It is an attempt to solve the age old question. Which is the better bodega, Mission Burrito or El Mexicana? These are the issues that students should be really learning about in their degrees. The ability to distinguish a good burrito will be far more useful than your non-homogenous differential equations are ever going to be.
Stomach growling at the concept of fulfilling the most basic desire that a human being can ever feel. The desire for top quality Mexican food. It was cold, and I had just coxed a boat in a hail storm. So to say that they were subject to the most critical scrutiny is something of an understatement. Setting off from Merton Street, it is very easy to get to a branch of Mission Burrito (there are multiple branches dotted around the city, with one even conveniently placed near the Union so you never fear having to hack on an empty stomach). I very much have a standard order which I would recommend. This is a wholemeal tortilla burrito with ancho chile beef, black beans and pinto beans split, lettuce, a portion of cheese, chipotle sauce and the cooling influences of sour cream. This is an order fit for a king, and this is coming from a mere staff writer.
Sitting in my regular spot, I take a moment to appreciate the ambiance of the place. This is the first thing which I find to be lacking. The music selection is uninspired to say the least and does not match with the décor at all. It is not Stacey’s Mom level awful, but still leaves something to be desired. With that in mind, it was on to the burrito itself. Unwrapped from its foil constraints, I was making to take a bite that would transform my mood. But then I was struck by the greatest risk one faces when ordering a Mission burrito. The case of the changing chipotle.
At one moment, you get a mild compliment to the meat that has insufficient kick. Other times you have a concoction which seems to have the sole purpose of chemical decapitation. In this case, it was to be the latter. The other components made up for this but one left Mission Burrito feeling that the experience was eminently beatable.
In the long walk (by Oxford standards) between the Mission Burrito off Oriel Square to Gloucester Green, a number of thoughts passed through the mind. Is there such thing as an objectively good burrito? Is there any point in having two burritos in a short space of time thus ruining my appetite? And should you feel slightly problematic because of the fact that eating burritos is culturally appropriating a Mexican staple food that we now use to fill column inches in student newspapers?
After concluding no to all of the above, it transpired that El Mexicana beckoned before me, and the fate of the culinary world was at stake (this may or may not be a slight embellishment). In order to make a direct comparative, the same burrito was ordered at both locations. El Mexicana does have a distinct benefit of having a wider variety of meats and sauces, thus providing you with greater scope for choice. The chipotle is slightly smokier in El Mexicana than it was in Mission Burrito, and that should be appreciated when considering this is a comparison of flavour. However, there was another distinct problem with this. The sauce was on point, but the problem lay with the meat.
The shredded beef was simply rather drier than one would expect of a meat marinated in sauce. This matters not so much in the taste but in the interaction between the contrasting textures that is relatively important in a good burrito. So this was not by any means perfect either.
You may wonder at this point who the victory went to. The answer is that they both won. This is nothing to do with the taste. For what it is worth, they both produce excellent burritos but Mission clinches it for me. But they have won for the following reason. They managed to jointly extract more than £10 of my surplus value. They are both corporations that were able to exploit my socially determined preferences towards Mexican food. The fact is that victory is a social construct created as a determining metric in discourse. Thus there cannot be any winners. This matters. Because you are always forced to judge between two different venues. Really the only way that can be done is through trial and error. Get out there and try as many different venues as you can. Yeah, some will bite. But that is the fun of being a foodie. The risk taking is part of the fun. Who knows, you may even go for the habanero sauce one day…