I'm from Mexico City and lived in the U.S. for a total of more than 24 years. Now I'm back in Mexico. I realized I was seeing my country through the eyes of a native stranger. This is an attempt to process the differences, to explain Mexico to the U.S. and the U.S. to Mexico. With digressions along the way.

sábado, enero 29, 2005

Ode to the Tortilla

I cannot express how much I am missing my fresh-made tortillas now. When I was home my mom and I would buy the "masa" (dough) from the "tortillería" across the street instead of buying tortillas, and then I would make tortillas every morning and night fresh. In the morning for the eggs and at night for the quesadillas. When we bought the dough it would still be warm from having been ground. Making tortillas just right is quite an art. I don't even do it the real way, by hand. I do it with a press and plastic sheets, and still there is some artistry involved in knowing just when to flip over the tortilla. I'm very particular about texture, the amount of time they're cooked, making sure they blow up like one of those mylar balloons so they get the "skin" on one side, getting a good thickness.... Man, if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life it would probably be corn tortillas.
I bought "Maseca" here, which is one of the commercial corn flours they sell, but it is just not the same thing. AT ALL! My aunt says it's because they grind the corn cob in too. It's pale white and it's a lot grittier. The dough we buy at the tortillería is ground there fresh, while the Maseca flour is dehydrated, so that could be another factor. I remember Masa Harina not being as bad a brand, but I couldn't find it the other day (despite there being tons of Mexican "tiendas" here). I went to the Whole Foods store where they used to have it bulk, but they didn't even know what I was talking about. They pointed me to cornmeal, which is radically different than the corn flour used to make tortillas. They add lime to corn to make Mexican corn flour. Not lime as in the citrus, but as in the mineral. I don't know the chemistry of it, but I'm sure it's what gives it the distinctive taste. If you're gonna buy corn flour to make tortillas, make sure it lists lime as an ingredient or says that it has "maíz nixtamalizado" (which means it's corn treated with lime). I'm so desperate for my real corn tortilla taste that I'm thinking of going all out and making my own corn flour with the explanation given on this site. *sigh*


Blogger Ruth Kunstadter said...

I TOTALLY agree with you! I didn't grow up with fresh-made tortillas, but I had the opportunity to take a cooking lesson in Oaxaca with a wonderful cook -- Pilar Cabrera, who owns a restaurant there -- and she took me to the market to buy all the ingredients we were going to use for our meal. She showed me the fresh masa, in two consistencies -- one for tortillas, one for tamales -- and we bought it and took it back to her kitchen to make the fresh tortillas. Pure heaven. I already had a tortilla press at home, so when I came back here, I went looking at our local Latin American/Mexican groceries for fresh masa. It was nowhere to be found. I would do anything to be able to have it.... don't know if I have the patience and skill to soak the corn and grind it (I also don't have a metate, but I could certainly get one, since I do have a molcajete). If you try it, please let me know how it turns out!!! And where to get the right kind of corn!

By the way, I know the key question in many homes (three times a day!) is "corn or flour?" For me, if it's from fresh masa, corn is the clear winner.

11:49 a. m.

Blogger Nayeli said...

Corn has always been the uncontested winner for me in the corn vs. flour tortilla debate. I have learned to appreciate flour tortillas, but given the choice will ALWAYS go for corn. I think it's a northern vs. southern Mexico thing mostly. I'm wondering if I can get the right kind of corn, too, but I'm curious about trying it with different varieties. I but sweet american corn would be good too!

2:07 p. m.

Blogger Jason Metter said...

"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?" That is certainly the only type of partriotism I can stomach. I love this quote and thought Ben Franklin said it, but it is attributed to Lin Yutang, early 20th century Chinese philosopher.

12:36 a. m.

Blogger Nayeli said...

Ha ha...quite a jump from Franklin to a Chinese philosopher...in a way at least. I love the quote, and I think it's probably true for me. But what would it mean for an American??? McDonalds?

2:36 a. m.

Blogger Jason Metter said...

For me, having spent most of my youth in Houston and Denver, in part at least, it means Mexican food. And definitely corn over flour tortillas. For a few years, I lived in NYC, the first city I lived in that did not have a large Mexican communities or good Mexican food. I missed it a lot.

I am not an authority on its authenticity, purity, geography, or history, so perhaps I should be calling it Mexican-American food or classifying it further. I’d love to know more about the subject. One thing I’ve heard: Mexican food is one of the best-surviving Native American cultural artifacts, in terms of being in active use as it was centuries ago.

As a kid, I loved cheese enchiladas with rice and refried beans. And Carne Asada tacos topped with chopped onions and cilantro, each wrapped in two corn tortillas. Sadly, I did not make friends with the avocado until my adolescence. It was later too that I discovered the glorious burrito, an American innovation, so I’ve been told.

Mission burritos, developed in San Francisco, seem to be taking over the country and taking fast food market share away from the burger. Two small Denver companies, Chipotle and Qdoba, which were bought by two large companies, McDonald’s and Jack-in-the-Box respectively, are leading the charge to hock pseudo-Mission burritos from coast to coast.

1:38 p. m.


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