Tucson in 100 objects: News from a reader on the chimichanga

2014-04-22T14:26:00Z 2014-07-29T20:51:47Z Tucson in 100 objects: News from a reader on the chimichanga Arizona Daily Star
April 22, 2014 2:26 pm

Tom,

We enjoyed the article on the chimichanga in the Star. I've lived in Tucson since 1968, and consider the big, fat deep fried burrito as distinctly Tucson, and better than elsewhere in the United States. I remember ordering a chimichanga in Denver in the 1970s — and got something full of English peas floating in brown gravy!

I've heard the story about its invention at El Charro or in a restaurant in Eloy. Those are good Arizonas stories, but I think the origin really is in Sonora. My wife is from Hermosillo (and Benjamín Hill earlier) and I have spent lots of time in the state as a biologist and ethnologist. In Sonora, it is called chivichanga. I first encountered them in the bus station in Imuris in 1970. They were simple tortillas folded into squares, filled with meat and potatoes, deep fried, and topped with mayonaise and shredded cabbage. They still sell them there, I prefer them over Tucson's finest, and stop by often for lunch. There are square, not like rolled burritos.

My wife's family ate them in the 1960s in Benjamín Hill, often simply filled with frijoles. Before that her family knew them in the early 1900s from other northern Sonora towns -- Trincheras, Santa Ana, Magdalena, Santa Cruz, etc. As Hermosillo exploded, lots of families from northern Sonora moved there taking chivichangas with them after the 1960s. A few years ago we told the el Charro story to Professor Francisco Paz, a geology professor at the Universidad de Sonora, originally from Nogales. He said no, no — they were brought into Sonora by Chinese workers. Often Chinese men married Mexican women who tried to cook Chinese food for their husbands. Chivichanga has no linguistic roots in Spanish, and was likely as close as Mexican ears could capture the Chinese name for it. We have heard Mexican children in American Chinese food restaurants call egg rolls chimichanguitas. I think chivichangas and egg rolls have the same roots. Most Chinese men were expelled from Sonora during the Mexican revolution in 1910-1915. Perhaps they brought the name to Tucson. Its about time to broaden the chimichanga origin story.

Tom Van Devender

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