Wrapped Up

Posted on May 31, 2015 by psu

A few months ago I needed a new podcast to use to fill the time during my commute and on the recommendation of a friend of mine I picked up The Sporkful out of NYC. On paper this should be right in my wheelhouse. It’s an obsessive mostly nerdy but also pragmatic investigation of the great questions around food and eating. Overall I would say that the show is mostly enjoyable. There was that good rant about bagels. There was a nice show about soda. And the host liked the burritos at La Taqueria, which are the best I’ve had in SF, which means they are the best I’ve had. So that’s good.

Nothing is perfect though, and Pashman and his show are occasionally guilty of small sins against logic and/or good taste. He has strange opinions about sandwiches. He doesn’t cook ramen noodle packs on the stove (what?), and I’m sure there was something else in one or two of his shows that I would quibble with, but not get outright angry about.

But tonight he has gone over the line. On my way back from yet another stupendous meal at Cure I was listening to the aforementioned show about burritos. Near the end of this show he asks a question so misguided, so over the line, and so just plain offensive that I’m not even going to bother complaining about the segment right after it that was claiming that Chipotle served good food (hint: it doesn’t).

No. We don’t have time for that. Because we have to get right to the issue at hand. The question that he asked, and the claim that he made, was the following:

Aren’t burritos, or any other foods that by coincidence involve wrapping a set of related ingredients in a round piece of flour, “wraps”?

He went on to rattle off various dishes that he claimed to fall into this category: burritos, moo shu pork, Peking duck. I can only imagine that he’d make the same claim about tacos, Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, shawarma, gyros, calzones, street crepes, blintzes, cannelloni, cannoli, any number of fried spring roll-like constructions and maybe even sushi rolls.

Here is what I have to say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

The brain-damaged “logic” here, I guess, is that since all of these foods are “wrapped” in dough, they are, by definition, “wraps”. The last time a literal interpretation of language went this wrong was when people decided that the Earth must be 6,000 ears old to fit with the description of Creation in the Bible.

Let’s be clear. A “wrap”, in the context of American culinary history is a “food” product created to provide people who didn’t want to eat something that was actually good with a simulacrum of what, for some reason, they were trying to avoid. In general this would involve taking ingredients that were meant for a good sandwich or salad (tuna, chicken salad, cold cuts, various cold sauces) or ingredients that you would not wish on your worst enemy (various sorts of cold tofu “salad”, sprouts and nothing else, lots of diced raw sweet peppers, bad quinoa) and stuffing it into a stale piece of round flour that sort of looks like a stale flour tortilla, but has been stripped of everything that makes a flour tortilla actually enjoyable to consume. Calling a wrap an enjoyable meal is akin to calling a Subway sandwich a sandwich. They are actually fairly analogous food products, since both involve marginal ingredients placed on to “bread” that is already stale, no matter how recently it was made.

The fact that you happen to construct this instrument of sadness in a way that is on the surface similar to some of the best and most sublime food on the planet is either a sad and irrelevant coincidence or an explicit result of savvy marketing. Wraps are a thing you eat if you have not managed your food life correctly and you have somehow ended up somewhere where they are the best of a set of terrible choices. They are the dregs of a bad deli tray. They are not something you go looking for. They are not on your favorite menus. They are a fallback. A way to get raw food mass that doesn’t make you sick but is otherwise completely bereft of joy or happiness.

In contrast a good burrito is something you will fly 3500 miles to eat. Good Peking duck will change the way you think about food for the rest of your life. And all the other items on the list above are at a minimum something that you would make a side trip to find if it were around, and get a craving for if you could not have it.

No one ever craved a curried tofu, sprout and shredded low-fat mozzarella wrap.

They don’t even belong in the same article together. And I’m even mad at myself for mentioning wraps along with the other things. Shame on me.

That’s all I got. Have a good night.