Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea
Burrito in New Mexico
When your desk is often the dashboard of your truck as you head out into a 12-hour field day, you shouldn’t miss the last chance for food not procured from a gas station. As an archaeologist, I often just eat whatever goods are stashed in the bottom of my pack. Real food is glorious.
A few miles south of Farmington, New Mexico is a different kind of border. Where the view gives way from the greens and built shapes of the San Juan River valley to the browns and golds and reds of the mesas and rock. The border isn’t marked; there isn’t even a sign. Somewhere between dawn and the sunrise, you enter the Navajo Nation.
At a dusty four-way intersection, which multitasks as an asphalt depository, a school bus stop, and a gathering place for work crews, a 1970s travel trailer is hitched to an old Ford 150 that may once have been dark blue. And in that old trailer, there is a stove, and a counter, and a couple who make spectacular Navajo breakfast burritos.
They must get up pretty early to make the stacks of homemade tortillas every morning. The tortillas are thick, often slightly charred, unsalted, and have a faintly metallic baking powder aftertaste. These tortillas recall the Long Walk of 1864, when flour, lard, and baking powder became staples of the Navajo kitchen. The Navajo were forcibly relocated from their homeland where they herded sheep and grew beans, corn, and squash, to Bosque Redondo, where those items were no longer an option.
You can pick between ham, bacon, sausage, Spam. Into the thick tortilla it goes, with egg scrambled lightly on a griddle, layered over pork and smashed-up potatoes. Wrapped in a single sheet of yellow paper, a piece of scotch tape seals the cylinder. For $3.50, it comes with a salt packet and a whole raw jalapeño. Sometimes I get the sausage. Sometimes, the Spam. In fact, it’s the only time I like Spam.
I place the burrito on my dashboard and drive further. Past the border and into the landscape, into Navajo country, first through nothing and then past hogans—Navajo dwellings—horses, dogs, sage. I consult maps and consult the sky. My destination varies, depending on the project.
When I arrive, I open the yellow-clad parcel, and sprinkle the salt on just enough for two bites. I take one nibble of the jalapeño, and hold the wet green spice in a corner of my mouth before biting the burrito. The tortilla is slightly dry, and cracking a little. The contrast between that dryness and the wet crunch of the pepper, and the sprinkled-on salt with the soft filling, makes a perfect morning meal. Salt on the outside, salted pork on the inside, wrapped in the chewy dough, which tastes slightly of wood smoke. I inhale and watch the light play on the mesa edges.