In the interests of full disclosure, I'll let you all know that if I make terrible mistakes and gaffes in this post, it's unintentional. I am extremely novice when it comes to Mexican food of all kinds beyond the Pancho Villa grocery-store products. This is why I've come to the Chowhound Oracle to learn!
(Please note, if you answer me please translate any Spanish words!)
1) What makes a burrito a burrito? Is a burrito like a sandwich, in that whatever you put in it makes it a burrito? Or are there specific rules?
2)I had a remarkable (for me, anyway) burrito today at Lee's Deli, made by non-Mexicans. It was delicious, and not too bland. It was constructed thus:
--very very large flour tortilla (tasted as if made with lard, which I think would make it authentic)
--layer of slightly seasoned dry Spanish-looking (i.e: tomato-sauced) white rice
--black beans (not mushy or refried)
--shredded cheddar-like cheese
My question is -- is this anything like what is served in Mexico? Or is this totally Americanized?
3) I had carnitas recently -- which I guess is some kind of slow-cooked pork. I was served it at Mexican-family gathering, and everyone seemed to enjoy it very much except me. I ate it plain on a plate with vegetables. Other people put it on tortillas and ate it such different ways (some even with yellow mustard!) thatI couldn't see a common thread. I was being entertained by an elderly lady of the family and I only complimented everything I ate, and didn't get up the gumption to ask (I know I should have) about how it was all prepared and should be eaten.
4) If I were venture to the Mission for some more authentic Mexican, where would you recommend? (Please don't suggest La Taqueria, where I got food poisoning on an early foraging trip, which scarred me against Mexican food for awhile). I'd like to do this in an organized fashion. I'd like purely Mexican places to start (no Brazilian, Peruvian, etc), and also places where I can order something that isn't automatically super-hot with chilis. I'm learning to like hot things more and more, but I still need to go slowly. If I need to order in Spanish, please give me the Spanish equivalent and I'll work on my accent :)
5) Really, what is a tamale?
6) What is picante sauce, and how is it different than salsa?
I'm sure to most Californians this all seems so obvious! Where I grew up and have lived until I moved here were singularly lacking in Mexican food other than the big chains. So often on this board I see people tossing around terms which sound delicious, but don't make sense to me. I've even looked them up in Spanish dictionaries! (which doesn't always work).
Many thanks in advance for any help I get.