Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 15 - the X issue
Log 15 - the X issue

El Gran Burrito!!
Giovanni Intra


There is an unfortunate tendency among New Zealanders to be vegetarian. For no particular reason that I can remember I was one for seven years. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that everyone I knew aside from my family didn’t eat meat, my family did, and at the time this was reason enough. I even tried veganism for while, a few miserable months. Even though I meet the odd vegetarian in Los Angeles, where I have lived for five or so years, I associate vegetarianism with New Zealand, an obsession suffered by people of my generation who have or had an alternative inclination. I have completely lost my patience for that attitude, the dietary part of it at least.

As I said, my parents were not vegetarians. My father, who was Italian and quite a good cook, liked to eat meat, and he spent a lot of time thinking about it. The New Zealand side of my family were drawn to the wonders of corned beef: awful, pink, boiled blobs of rubbery flesh surrounded by shuddering strips of putrid fat, hacked at with a blunt knife and served with massively water-logged cabbage and potatoes bruised by the carcinogenic interior of an aluminum pan. Perhaps this puts vegetarianism into perspective.

I have developed an interest in food and cooking since I have lived away from home, and I think this is for several reasons: getting older, having very little money and wanting to create some sense of material pleasure while living in a shoebox, wanting to think about something else aside from art or do something aside from art-world things (escaping the art world, in other words), good and bad health, creating opportunities to drink lots of wine, having something else to read about, taking pleasure in something that is not illegal, and so on.

These things apply to cooking and preparing food at home, which I like to do a lot. This is relatively uncommon in LA as everyone of the sociable generation goes out to eat. It’s quite rare to be invited to dinner, unless it’s at a restaurant, which is what all the gallerists except us do after an opening because we cannot afford it. Finding good places to eat out, however, presents its own problems. There’s a lot of crap food here, but that isn’t the end of it. There are so many stupid restaurants, far too many fast-food joints, and so many nasty people. Having said that, LA, if you know how to find what you need, is a brilliant place to dine - at every gastronomic level. New Yorkers are frequently mean about the food scene in LA, but most of them don’t know what they’re talking about. Outlets for cheap ethnic food that make people very happy can be discovered by reading Jonathan Gold’s tome, Counter Intelligence, a guide to the taco stands, Vietnamese noodle houses, Chinese dives, Korean BBQ restaurants, Salvadorian pupusa trucks and dumpling houses of this very vast place. Perhaps as a culinary riff on Ed Ruscha’s ‘Every Building on the Sunset Strip’, Gold claims to have dined at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard, a vast street, at least twenty-five miles long, which extends from Santa Monica to Downtown LA, and crosses white/wealthy, Mexican, Salvadorian, Argentinean, Korean and African-American neighbourhoods. It’s this kind of research that can really benefit a food hunter as without it one would simply be lost.

In any case, Tessa asked me to write about burritos, which is why I started on the subject of meat, probably just to get on her herbivorous nerves. The burrito, a Mexican invention, is all about meat. It is also about rice, salsa and cilantro - but vegetarian versions are generally boring (more often than not the "vegetarian" burrito isn’t vegetarian at all at all as the beans are prepared with animal lard). The most common versions are asada (steak), al pastor (roasted and seasoned pork), carnitas (roasted pork), pollo (chicken), and lengua (tongue). Fish burritos can also be amazing, but stands serving them are generally closer to the sea and I live quite far from it and eat them less frequently. The burrito is like a Mexican hamburger, if you will, and it is frequently served from a dazzling, stainless-steel truck which will pull up to your street corner when the car wash or whatever closes for the day. There is one in my neighbourhood which I like called El Gran Burrito. Not a truck, it’s a large tent in a parking lot inside of which are a bunch of burners and grilling racks, salsa stands, fridge-sized pots of boiling beans, scrappy tables, trash filling the bins to their limit, cars revving outside, babies crying, TV news in Spanish, toothpick dispensers, the continuous ringing of the cash register, fluorescent lights and a lovely warm wind blowing through the whole place. The workers are very quick and efficient, and the food, once ordered, takes no time to prepare. El Gran Burrito is open all night, always packed with drunk, hungry people of all ages and persuasions piling thigh-sized chunks of smoky meats and bright salsas down their gullets and leaving shortly after the inevitable and often fruitless attempt to wipe the grease off your face with a generic towelette. Sometime there are Mariachi singers which may or may not assist with digestion. You can have just rice and beans in you burrito if you like, as Tessa did when we were there once, but most prefer the addition of meat, which is roasted, seasoned and then rolled into frisbee-sized portions of unleavened bread. It’s very juicy, this meat, often over-salted to shit, but always slowly cooked and completely tender - almost the consistency of a well-grilled zucchini! Condiments include avocado guacamoles, and several chile salsas (red, green, golden brown), chopped cilantro, diced onion, and wedges of lime, which are especially delicious squeezed over carnitas. Avocado on charred steak is delicious; salsa verde on pork is just so amazing. Salsas are free for the taking, which necessitate hand-written signs in Spanish discouraging patrons from being too greedy, but you see people stuffing plastic containers of it in their purses anyway. I have talked with people who have travelled across Mexico, visiting hundreds of taco stands and village restaurants and, according to these experts, El Gran Burrito doesn’t exactly deserve world fame, and I have eaten at much better myself. But this place, which you can smell half a mile away, produces much delight for the mouth and in the stomach. The place serves food at its most elemental; it is the undisguised pleasure of eating meat.

Giovanni Intra whiles away his time away from China Art Objects Galleries, in Chinatown, LA, cooking in the mode of an Ancient Roman (pork baked for six weeks in milk, stuffed dormice etc.). Well I guess he is a Modern Roman?


"The El Gran Burrito sign appears half a block down the street,
seemingly on someone’s balcony.
But that’s commerce for you." (cont. ed.)
(Photo: Steve Shimada.)

Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room