La Tortilleria

I’m addicted. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the tacos. I started by eating a few each day. That was a month ago. I think about how many I had yesterday. Was it 15? Or more likely a 1/2 kilogram? Supposedly the “healthier choice” over flour tortillas, I’m told it’s OK by a friend who lives in Mexico.

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Maíz tortillas aren’t for everyone. They dry out quickly and break easily, dumping their contents on the floor. Their mouth feel is granular. However, they are slightly sweet, cheap, and when prepared properly have a particular bounce that makes me return for more.

Fresh is best. Each town in Mexico tends to have their own Tortilleria and it’s busy before meal time. Everyone wants a steaming stack of fresh tortillas to share with the family. As they come skidding off of the machine, workers weigh them out in stacks. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

They come in half or whole kilogram increments wrapped in paper. The fancier stores use bleached paper that have logos printed on them while smaller local stores use non bleached paper similar to a newspaper without any ink.

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At home, the hot stack of tortillas is kept in its paper cover and further wrapped in a towel to preserve moisture and heat.  When dinner is ready (or rather any meal because they are eaten all the time) the tortillas are placed on the table and eaten as an American would eat fresh bread.

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They are rolled up and used to push food on the plate. They are dipped in soups. They are made into food vehicles conveying tasty tidbits into your mouth. They go with everything. It’s OK to have a couple kilograms of maíz tortillas at home. They will get eaten.

Of particular note is that the warmest tortillas are the best. While eating dinner with a friend I noticed that she didn’t take from the top of the tortilla stack. Rather, it is important with a fresh stack to find a tortilla in the middle and pull it out. It’s like getting the center roll out of a fresh baked pan of rolls.

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After dinner the tortillas are wrapped up in the towel and left to cool. They will last another few days but they won’t be as good as they were when fresh. Slowly, the moisture escapes and the maíz tortillas become brittle and dry. They are rejuvenated for each successive meal by heating in a hot skillet or over an open flame. Their flexibility and bounce returns.

Eventually, the heat treatment will not rejuvenate the days old tortillas.  They are destined for a new life as Chilaquiles.

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