I met them when they lived in San Francisco, and they've always been kind enough to let me crash at their place whenever I'm in NYC. I feel a great debt to them for all the time I've spend there. So, each time before I leave I ask, "Is there anything you want me to bring from San Francisco?" Without hesitation, Howard always replies "a carne asada burrito."
Usually we laugh at this. Its impossible right? Well, this visit I decided I would do what I could to make it happen.
Why is this difficult? A direct flight to New York from San Francisco is only about 5 1/2 hours. A bit long for a burrito, but not completely inconceivable. However there's a lot of other extra time; If you buy the burrito 1/2 hour before you leave, arrive at the airport 2 hours before the flight and take 1 hour to get from JFK to Brooklyn once it lands, you're looking at 9 hours that a burrito must survive and remain palatable.
I started asking everyone from friends to coffee shop baristas what they thought would be the best way to transport a burrito on a plane to NYC. Here are the suggestions I compiled:
This method involves no special technique. Simply buy the burrito, stuff it in your carry on and hope for the best.
Pros: Simple, requires no extra equipment or planning
Cons: The burrito is likely to get soggy; mission burritos are so tasty nobody has any direct experience with a burrito this old.
Buy the burrito and then take it apart. Store the ingredients separately so that they do not make the tortilla soggy. Reconstruct upon arrival.
Pros: Addresses a major transport concern; an overly soggy burrito
Cons: A lot of messy work. Likely to be disgusting when reconstructed.
Self ConstructedObtain all the burrito ingredients in the mission, transport them separately and construct upon arrival.
Pros: Same as "deconstructed" with the added benefit that you do not have to tear apart an existing burrito
Cons: Still a lot of work. Also, its questionable whether this still counts as a mission burrito.
Keep the burrito cold for the flight. Dry ice or some kind of ice pack would be used.
Pros: Refrigeration has proven itself effective in reducing food spoilage over long periods of time.
Cons: Dry ice produces carbon dioxide gas which may possible be seen as steam coming from my bag; ice could be leaky. Both could arouse the suspicion of the TSA and have me arrested upon landing.
Freeze the burrito and then sleeve the it in a thermos for the duration of the flight.
Pros: Same as "actively chilled"
Cons: Finding an appropriate thermos.
Note: with all these methods the universal advice was "no sour cream"
I was not sold on the deconstructed or self constructed methods. They seemed like a lot of work. Plus what happens in mission Taquerias is so magical that it borders on being god like. One would not expect to deconstruct, say, a caterpillar and then put it back together and still have a caterpillar. It might look a little like a caterpillar but that which makes it caterpillar-y will have left, impossible to recreate. Not wishing to play burrito god, I decided against these.
Also, I was initially not sold on any kind of cooling since I really wanted to get to New York and it seemed like that method would be the fastest way for me to end up in a small florescently lit room for a long period of time. However the thermos idea was so genius I decided I had to try it.
After visiting Sports Basement, Walgreens and the Container Store though, I discovered that almost all thermoses have very narrow necks. The ones that did have wide necks weren't long enough to hold a full burrito and I wasn't about to cut the burrito in half. Desperate, I scoured the Container Store for an alternative. What I found was a decent compromise between the active and passively chilled methods.
I found a padded water bottle carrier that would fit the burrito, though these offer poor insulation compared to a real thermos. However, they also had a segmented, reusable ice pack that was unlikely to leak. So, I could freeze the burrito and the ice pack, and stuff them both into the padded carrier.
As a control, I would also attempt an Au Naturel, putting both in my check-in baggage. My theory is that they do not actively heat the baggage hold and I'll get a little bit of benefit having the burritos chilling in there rather than with me in the cabin.
So how did they fare?
Both burritos made it intact to Brooklyn. The frozen burrito and its ice pack were still frozen, and the unaltered burrito had not leaked. Both were put in to the refrigerator upon arrival and left there as it was 9am Sunday morning and we needed coffee and eggs. Then we forgot about them.
Monday, both were taken into my hosts respective workplaces for lunch. A microwave was used with both to warm them up. The frozen burrito's tortilla was reportedly a bit gummy and the rice a bit dry, but as a whole still tasty. The unaltered burrito had a no tortilla issues but also suffered from dry rice. It was still tasty and had not suffered from its hours of unrefrigerated travel.
The conclusion is that this was not as hard a problem as I had made it out to be. The mission burrito is a hardy beast and travels well. If you'd like to surprise your New York friends with an authentic mission burrito, simply grab a few on your way out of town and toss them into your carry on. Oh, and hold the sour cream.