making tortillas

Illustration by Luis Amendolla, for La Fonda Restaurant, Lafayette, La.

So apparently making tortillas a mano isn’t what it used to be.  At the very least it’s a dying art form in Hispanic kitchens across the country… or so it seems as fewer and fewer people are actually taking the time to make fresh tortillas, of any kind, from scratch on a regular basis.  Hell, even in our ranchito in Mexico there’s a tortilla truck that drives around every day offering fresh handmade tortillas, made by someone else, for a couple of pesos.  If you’re smart, and a little sneaky, nobody even has to know those tortillas you’re serving weren’t prepared by you!

Growing up, though, we couldn’t sit down for one single meal without my mom making handmade tortillas de harina or the masa.  Sometimes even both.  Every day she would make a pile of flour tortillas for us kids and another pile of corn tortillas for her and my father.  You could say we were spoiled.  It’s okay.  We’ll admit it.  Our meals just weren’t meals without tortillas.  In a lot of ways they still aren’t today!  Only now we’re all okay with the store bought variety as well.

Even mamá, while we were having this discussion at her house last night, had to admit that nowadays even she doesn’t feel like making tortillas all that often. It’s definitely a lot of work that requires mad skillz in the kitchen!

Which made me recall something else tortilla-related: ¡tacos de sal! 


No meat. No pico. No guacamole. No lemon.  No cheese.  NO CHILE! Just a freshly made corn tortilla, slightly dampened with water, sprinkled with salt, squished together by bare hands to look like a small colorless churro.  When money was tight that’s what we’d eat along with Quelite from our personal harvest of edible plants, built more out of necessity than personal choice.  But it was better than having to string a single piece of meat through several tortillas to make the flavor last…which is what my parents had to do as children in each of their homes in Mexico when hunger was more abundant than the almighty peso.  I guess in a way we were moving on up!

Some history about the tortilla 

From Wikipedia: According to Mayan legend, tortillas were invented by a peasant for his hungry king in ancient times.  The first tortillas discovered, which date back to approximately 10,000 BC, were made of native maize with dried kernel.  The Aztecs used a lot of maize, both eaten straight from the cob and in recipes.  They ground the maize, and used the cornmeal to make a dough called masa.

On 22 April 1519, Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés, also known as Hernando Cortez, arrived in what is now Mexico.  They found that the inhabitants (Aztecs and other native Mexican peoples) made flat maize bread.  The native Nahuatl name for this was tlaxcalli.  This bread made from maize was later given the name tortilla (little cake) by the Spanish.

For more on the tortilla visit Wikipedia.

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