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Chimichanga (pronounced /tʃɪmiˈtʃæŋɡə/; Spanish: [tʃimiˈtʃaŋɡa]), also known as chivichanga or chimmy chonga is a deep-fried burrito that is popular in Southwestern U.S. cuisine, Tex-Mex cuisine, and the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. The dish is typically prepared by filling a flour tortilla with a wide range of ingredients, most commonly beans, rice, cheese, shredded beef, carne adobada, or shredded chicken, and folding it into a rectangular package. It is then deep-fried and can be accompanied with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and/or cheese.
Debate over the origins of the chimichanga is ongoing:
• According to one source, the founder of the Tucson, Arizona, restaurant El Charro, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a pastry into the deep fat fryer in 1922. She immediately began to utter a Spanish curse-word beginning “chi…” (chingada), but quickly stopped herself and instead exclaimed chimichanga, the Spanish equivalent of thingamajig. Fortuitously, the euphemism was a well understood Indianism for the standard Spanish “chango quemado”, meaning “broiled monkey”, which the dish resembles.
• Other sources claim they were first served at “George’s Ole” in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early 1920’s. They had been perfected by the Cocreham family, an Irish/Mexican family. Several family members claim to be the inventor of the Chimichanga, but all agree that they came from the “Flauta” which is rolled with a corn tortilla. It took several flautas to fill one up because the corn tortilla is smaller than a flour tortilla. So to save time to feed her 13 children, Guadalupe Cocreham started using flour tortillas filled with spicy shredded beef. Her children were allowed to garnish them how they liked, thus several of her children claim to be the “inventor” because of how they garnished their own Chimichanga. Family members still have the old menus from the restaurant to prove these claims are true.
A Chimichanga with refried beans and rice served at an Illinois restaurant.
• Woody Johnson, the founder of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona also claimed to have prepared the first chimichanga. According to Johnson, he created the dish in 1946 by throwing some unsold burritos from his El Nido restaurant into a deep fryer and serving them to customers who arrived later in the day. The fried burritos were popular, and became a permanent fixture on the menu once Johnson opened Macayo’s in 1952.
Although no official records indicate when the dish first appeared, retired University of Arizona folklorist Jim Griffith recalls seeing chimichangas at the Yaqui Old Pascua Village in Tucson in the mid-1950s.
• Given the variant chivichanga, mainly employed in Mexico, another derivation would have it that immigrants to the United States brought the dish with them, mainly through Nogales into Arizona. A third, and perhaps most likely possibility, is that the chimichanga, or chivichanga, has long been a part of local cuisine of the Pimería Alta of Arizona and Sonora, with its early range extending southward into Sinaloa, not exactly. In Sinaloa the chimichangas are small. In any case, it is all but uncontroversial that within the United States, knowledge and appreciation of the dish spread slowly outward from the Tucson area, with popularity elsewhere accelerating in recent decades. Though the chimichanga is now found as part of the Tex-Mex repertoire, its roots within the U.S. seem to be in Pima County, Arizona.