“I eat my lunch with my hands /
From food trucks not hotdog stands /
But greasy diners and dives and cockroach traps /
All have one thing in common [insert beatbox] bad wraps /
– The Profussor
Sorry. I couldn’t resist starting of today’s post with a bad rap. Groan all you like. But I thought it was good to try and lighten the mood a bit, because today I’m really going to let my fussy flag fly.
Somehow in all of these years of writing the FLB, I’ve never taken on the subject of wraps. Let’s not mince words. I’ve never had one that I liked. They are an insult to sandwiches everywhere. And their growing ubiquity has me greatly concerned for America’s culinary future. In my heart of hearts I know they weren’t put on this planet to punish me. But sometimes it feels that way. Why? WHY!
Okay. Deep breaths. Let’s break this down.
Burritos are clearly to blame. When push comes to shove, I don’t take umbrage with a well made Mission-style burrito. Surely someone out there is confused by this. Isn’t a burrito just a Mexican wrap? No. No, it’s not.
Taquerias employ a critical piece of machinery to transform flour tortillas into something fit for human consumption. It’s a giant steamer. And it takes what is otherwise a tough, dense, and pasty flour shell and transforms it into something soft and pliable. A well-steamed tortilla is sturdy enough to securely hold its contents, yet tender enough to offer no resistance to a gentle bite. It’s the miracle of the gluten.
In a well-made burrito the flour tortilla receives additional help along the way. It’s stuffed primarily with warm ingredients. These help keep the tortilla warm and pliable throughout the eating experience. Perhaps the very best part of a burrito is its heart, the last few bites at the bottom where all of the juices have gathered for a party of pure deliciousness.
I don’t know who came up with trying to take this burrito concept and applying it to typical American lunch foods. But none of the above happens when you take a turkey and havarti sandwich and roll it up in a whole wheat tortilla.
Even writing those words makes me shake my head in disgust.
Those tortillas are just so hard. So brittle. So dull. So devoid of life. The biggest complaint I have by far is the folly of taking a cold tortilla and filling it with cold ingredients. Sure, it may feel good in your hand, and maybe you can get it into your mouth without making a mess. But the very thought of biting into one makes me want to cringe.
To some, wraps are considered a more healthful option. Bread has been vilified by the carb police, and these seem to have less of the bad stuff. Heck, some of them are even made with spinach. Sure, they may be colored green with a token amount of spinach, but don’t fool yourself into thinking they are good for you. This is what goes into the Mission “garden spinach” herb wraps:
Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour
-Interesterified Soybean Oil
-Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil
And contains 2% or less of:
-FD&C Yellow #5 Lake
-FD&C Blue #1 Lake
-Sodium Aluminum Sulfate
-Monocalcium Phosphate and/or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate
-Sorbic Acid and/or Citric Acid
-Sodium Metabisulfite and/or Mono- and Diglycerides
Yep. It’s the FD&C Yellow and FD&C Blue that really make them green. Yeah, I know these wraps look healthy, but looks can be deceiving.
But it doesn’t stop there. Because restaurants take liberties with their wraps that border on the criminal. You cannot put corned beef and swiss cheese inside a tortilla and call it a Reuben wrap. A Reuben is a thing, dammit, and it comes on grilled rye bread. Same goes for Cuban sandwiches and banh mi. The breads that surrounds these classic combinations are intrinsic to their identities.
It has come to the point where when I see a wrap on a restaurant menu I roll my eyes just a little bit. How could they subject their customers to this monstrosity? And I have to admit to being completely perplexed that one item on Peter Genovese’s 2013 list of “Best Jersey eats” was a wrap.
18. Grilled chicken whole wheat wrap with chickpea and bean salad, Americana Diner, East Windsor. The best item sampled at our Jersey Diner Showdown winner.
The rest of that list looks pretty solid. And this is a guy who I trust. So I’m going to have to put aside my preconceived notions and prejudices and give it a try once Passover is over.