Tortillas


Ancient tortillas in a modern tortilla warmer.

A Mexican meal without tortillas is not really a Mexican meal. You can mix and match different entrees, but you always need tortillas with every meal. Tortillas have been around since Aztec times and are the equivalent of bread in many cultures. The tortilla, tlaxcalli to the Aztecs, is flat, round, made from corn, and may serve as a plate or an eating utensil such as a fork or spoon. When the Spaniards first encountered them, they called it a tortilla because it was circular like their Spanish dish of the same name.

Tortillas have always been part of my life. My father could eat a bowl of soup using only corn tortillas! My abuelita and mother were always heating up tortillas at the stove for every meal. They even made their own. They would use a rolling-pin to flatten the masa out, or in case of an emergency, a Coke bottle. My mother once bought an aluminum contraption that flattened the masa into a tortilla, but everyone agreed that they didn’t taste the same.

When we went to Mexico, I used to like going to the Tortillería to buy tortillas. They had a giant machine that would just make hundreds of hot tortillas for the customers waiting in line. You didn’t need directions to find the Tortillería because you would find it by following your nose. I would always eat at least one or two before I took the rest home.

Tortillas were also good for an afterschool snack. I’d sometimes come home and heat up some tortillas on the stove and eat them with butter. I rolled them up very tightly like a flauta. Sometimes I would eat them with just salt inside. Sometimes I would just heat them up and eat them plain. I really loved tortillas. When we kept the tortillas too long and they got hard, my mother would fry them and use them to make tostadas or chilaquiles. No tortilla was ever wasted in our home.

Occasionally, we ate flour tortillas, tortillas de harina, but they were always store-bought. We just preferred the taste of corn tortillas. Mexican restaurants use giant flour tortillas to make burritos. Other restaurants use them to make chicken wraps, where the “wrap” is actually a flour tortilla. Tortillas also evolved into the tortilla chips in Mexican restaurants, Frito’s corn chips, Tostitos, Doritos, thanks in no small part to capitalism.

I still have a comal to heat up my tortillas. Occasionally, I’ll eat them with cheddar cheese inside. Or I’ll eat them plain when I feel like reminiscing. But I definitely eat them when I make huevos con chorizo. I always keep a dozen corn tortillas in the freezer so I’ll have them whenever I crave them. They keep very well in the freezer and thaw out quickly in the microwave before I heat them up on my comal.

I can’t imagine life without tortillas!

Published by

David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.