The burrito and enchilada are well-recognized dishes in Mexican cuisine. But what are the main differences between these two foods? This article will explain the key differences such as fillings, toppings, types of tortillas, and cooking methods. So, the next time you are craving a Mexican meal, you can decide which of these two dishes is perfect for you! Or better yet, learn how to make your own with the suggestions shared in this article. Let’s get started!
Table of contents
- What is an enchilada?
- Types of enchiladas
- How do I make an enchilada?
- What is the origin of the enchilada?
- What is a burrito?
- The history of the burrito
- Why is it called a burrito?
- How do I make a burrito?
- What’s the main difference between an enchilada and a burrito?
- Related recipes
What is an enchilada?
An enchilada is a corn tortilla, generally filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese, then rolled or folded and topped with a chile-based salsa. The most common sauces used in Mexico are mole, green sauce (usually tomatillo-based), or red sauce (tomato or chile-based). The type of sauce used will depend on the customs and ingredients of each region.
Enchilada toppings include sliced onions, Mexican crema, and cheese, among other ingredients. This is one of the most popular Mexican dishes available throughout Mexico and it has gained popularity in other countries like the United States.
There are so many regional variations of enchiladas that the entries in my trusty Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana span over 6 pages!
Here are just a few types that you can find if you are traveling in Mexico.
Types of enchiladas
In Mexico City, enchiladas suizas are a popular option. These enchiladas are filled with shredded chicken and topped with a creamy tomatillo-based salsa. They are then topped with cheese and baked until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
In Hidalgo, typical enchiladas are filled with shredded chicken and cheese, and covered with a poblano pepper and peanut sauce. Toppings include sliced radishes, shredded cheese, and shredded lettuce.
The state of Jalisco has enchiladas with guajillo and cascabel pepper sauce, topped with cooked potatoes, carrots, shredded lettuce, pickled chiles, Mexican cream, avocado, and sliced radishes. Another popular version uses ground beef and vegetables (picadillo), covered with sauce, and then baked.
In Oaxaca, enchiladas made with mole are popular. These also go by the name of enmoladas in other parts of Mexico.
And these are just some of the enchiladas that you could expect to find in Mexico!
How do I make an enchilada?
Here in central Mexico, enchiladas are made by lightly frying a corn tortilla until it is pliable and easily rolled. Put your filling of choice inside the fried tortilla, then roll it into a tight log. Once your tortillas are all rolled, heat your salsa on the stove. Place your rolled tortillas in the warm salsa and allow the enchiladas to heat through and the tortilla to soften slightly. Place the enchiladas on a plate and cover with extra sauce before serving.
Now, the method that I described above is common for the central parts of Mexico.
In northern parts of Mexico, the order is reversed. The tortilla is first doused in salsa, then filled, rolled, and fried.
And in the southeast part of Mexico, the tortilla is normally not fried at all. It is simply soaked in a bit of salsa.
What is the origin of the enchilada?
Enchiladas are definitely a creation of Mexico. But how did this delicious, saucy, dish come to be?
Food historian Jeffrey M. Pilcher in his book Que Vivan los Tamales! mentions an enchilada variation called papadzules made by the Mayan people. This dish consisted of two separate sauces. The first was made with ground squash seeds and epazote tea. The second, was made with tomatoes and habaneros. A freshly made tortilla was covered with the thick squash seed sauce, then topped with the tomato sauce, making a variation of the modern-day enchilada.
Enchiladas further evolved under the Aztec empire. According to historytoday.com, the Aztec’s developed the “true” enchilada consisting of a chile-based paste used to dip tortillas that were then filled and rolled into “chilli flutes.”
Further modifications to the enchilada came with the Spaniards, who introduced beef, pork, and cheese to the Mexican natives.
What is a burrito?
At its most basic definition, a burrito (or burrita as they are known in some parts) is food wrapped in a flour tortilla (source: Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana). Burritos include all sorts of ingredients like refried beans, cheese, rice, steak, chicken, eggs, and potatoes, just to name a few.
Although the burrito is commonly associated with Mexican food, burritos aren’t all that common unless you are in Northern Mexico.
The history of the burrito
To understand more about the burrito and its history, I turned to food historian and author Jeffrey M. Pilcher and his book Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food.
The burrito that we know today evolved from a much simpler version, something more like a rolled corn taco. A Mexican cookbook dated 1895 first mentions the burrito.
Since then, burritos have evolved into something entirely different, consisting of a large flour tortilla stuffed to nearly bursting and filled with a variety of ingredients, oftentimes depending on what is locally available.
The mission-style burrito (also known as San Francisco-style burrito) is one example of how burritos have evolved. These large burritos were first made in San Francisco’s Mission district and are known for their large size and the inclusion of Mexican rice as one of their main components. The popular restaurant chain Chipotle makes a mission-style burrito.
Why is it called a burrito?
Burrito is a Spanish word that means “little donkey.” But why a burrito is called “little donkey” is a bit of a mystery. Author and food historian Jeffery M. Pilcher in his book Planet Taco mentions that it was common in colonial Mexico to see donkeys pulling carts of food. Did the name of the food come from the transportation method? There are other theories about how this food adopted its name, but the origin seems to have been lost to history.
How do I make a burrito?
Burritos are relatively simple to make because they can be filled with whatever you have on hand. Carne asada, picadillo, tinga, beans, rice, guacamole, and even potatoes and eggs make for great burrito fillings! So first, decide what you are making your burrito with and have all of the ingredients available and warmed up, if needed.
Next, ensure that your flour tortillas are room-temperature and pliable. This will make rolling your burrito easy.
Lay your flour tortilla out on a flat surface (a large plate or cutting board will work well), then place your filling in the bottom third of the tortilla. I like to layer in my ingredients so that I ensure I get all of the flavors in one bite.
Then, simply fold the bottom flap of the tortilla over the ingredients, fold the sides toward the center, and roll your burrito into a tight package. Just make sure that you don’t put too many ingredients in your burrito that you can’t roll it up!
What’s the main difference between an enchilada and a burrito?
So, now that you know what an enchilada and burrito are, what are their main differences?
The type of tortilla is one of the major differences between the enchilada and the burrito. Enchiladas are made with corn tortillas. This helps the tortilla hold up after being smothered with sauce.
A burrito is typically made with a flour tortilla.
While both the enchilada and the burrito can be made with a variety of fillings, enchiladas contain cooked ingredients. Stewed meats, veggies, or even scrambled eggs are prime candidates for enchilada filling.
Burritos, on the other hand, can be filled with both cooked and fresh ingredients. For example, a typical California burrito is made with a mix of grilled steak (carne asada), french fries, cheese, and some garnish like pico de gallo, guacamole, or sour cream. This is a great example of how burrito fillings can include both cooked and raw ingredients.
Burritos have sauce on the inside, enchiladas are covered with sauce on the outside. It’s that simple.
The one exception is the wet burrito. This is a burrito covered with enchilada sauce, a sort of burrito, enchilada combination.
Depending on where you are in Mexico, enchiladas can be cooked a couple of different ways. First, the filling and sauce are made separately. For one method, the corn tortilla is lightly fried until pliable, filled, rolled, and then put into the warm enchilada sauce to simmer. A second method involves first dipping the tortilla in sauce, then filling it, rolling it, and then frying the enchilada in a bit of oil.
A burrito is simply a large flour tortilla that is filled with ingredients and then wrapped. Any ingredients that require cooking are done beforehand. Some folks like to lightly fry their rolled burrito in oil to toast the tortilla a bit.
Deep-fried burritos, also known as chimichangas, are a popular burrito variation in the US Southwest.
How to eat a burrito and an enchilada
One of the beauties of burritos is that this is a portable, all-in-one meal. Burritos were made to be eaten on-the-go, so there is no fork or knife required for this dish. You usually don’t even need a plate, since most burritos come wrapped in aluminum foil.
Enchiladas, on the other hand, are smothered in warm sauce and melty cheese. This is a sit-down meal that requires a plate, fork, and knife.
Enchiladas include a variety of toppings. Some common ones are Mexican or sour cream, shredded cheese, lettuce, thinly sliced onions, and sliced radishes. And of course, enchiladas are doused with sauce that cover the rolled corn tortillas.
Burritos typically don’t have any toppings, since all of the ingredients are rolled inside the tortilla. There are a couple of exceptions.
Chimichangas can sometimes be covered with sour cream, pico de gallo, or guacamole.
And of course, a “wet” burrito, is a burrito that has been covered in sauce, like an enchilada. These types of burritos can also come with melted cheddar cheese and other toppings.
Here’s a handy table that summarizes the differences between enchiladas and burritos.
Which is bigger a burrito or an enchilada?
A burrito is typically larger than a single enchilada. But, if you are looking for a hearty meal, either dish should satisfy your hunger. Why? Although enchiladas are smaller than burritos, they are typically served 2 to 3 to a plate, with sides, making for a filling meal.
How do you decide between a burrito or an enchilada?
Do you want an on-the-go all-in-one meal without having to worry about a plate, fork, or knife? Then a burrito is your go-to choice. If you want a sit-down, plated meal with sides and a delicious warm sauce over corn tortillas, then enchiladas are the way to go.
Another factor to consider when you are choosing between a burrito and an enchilada is your own dietary restrictions. Burritos are made with wheat flour tortillas, not suited for those following a gluten-free diet.
Is a wet burrito an enchilada?
No. A wet burrito is a burrito that is covered with enchilada sauce. These sometimes go by the name “enchilada style burrito”. One of the distinct differences between an enchilada and a burrito is that enchiladas are made with thin corn tortillas while burritos are made with a wheat flour tortilla. So even though a wet burrito uses enchilada sauce, it is not the same as an enchilada since the tortilla is different than that used for an enchilada.
What can I serve with enchiladas?
If you are looking to make burritos or enchiladas at home, you can try these classic recipes!
Burritos and enchiladas are both popular types of Mexican dishes. And now that you know the difference, which one will you choose for your next meal? I hope this article was helpful! Let me know if there are any other questions in the comments!