A Word on Food™ Radio Show

Tortillas: Hecho a Mano

Corn Tortillas
Corn Tortillas

A Mexican boy of 20 or so … in long baggy shorts with a baseball hat is cooking my eggs while his mother rapidly peels potatoes with a curved blade flicking the peels away from her into a bowl while she giggles at the conversation she is having with him.

I can see them clearly through the kitchen that has almost no walls in this Mexican restaurant in Homestead.

His sister is skinny but … with curves too. The light is better in this restaurant than the one we are used to going to. And the eggs are more properly cooked with the yolks unbroken and sunny yellow. The beans carry the flavor of good lard.

A tamale is a simple thing… Often times the blandest thing… But this one houses homemade braised and then crisped up pork that delivers a firm kiss of texture which differentiates itself from the supple, smooth casing of the gentle corn mush.

The skill with which she cuts those potatoes makes me feel confidence in this place overall … and that she is smiling while she does it. Even though this is Sunday morning and probably her seventh day of work this week.

After careful deliberation I’ve decided that the best food of all in this house are the corn tortillas! The simplest things are almost always the best way to determine the quality of almost anything… certainly a restaurant.

They smelled of corn. That sounds simplistic but so many commercially made tortillas have dulled our expectations of home-made and hand-made things. And these tortillas were clearly made by someone’s own hands.

I asked the young girl if they made the tortillas there. She said ‘yes’ … and with her head she pointed to the woman in the back and said “She makes them… Gloria… my mother.

José Coronel Urtecho wrote in, “A Text on Corn”, that “the tortilla is at one and the same time a plate, a meal, and spoon or scoop. It can be eaten by itself or can accompany other foods…it is the perfect every day food”.

Tortillas morph into other words when they are used in different applications. Pupusas are one. They are a traditional Salvadoran dish made from slightly thicker corn tortillas, (hand-made of course!) … and filled with various variations on cheese, pork and/or re-fried beans.

Tostadas are another performance artist for the reliable tortillas. Here the tortillas act as an open-faced sandwich. Although… a tad tricker to eat than the simple taco I love the variations of textures attainable when the tortilla is not almost shut.

Flautas are pretty little cylindrically shaped examples of the way a tortilla can be used. It translates as ‘flutes’ and the music they make will have you craving a mariachi band in a cantina to be the place you have them.

My wife, Janet, makes her own version of Enchiladas. It brings a smile to my face to see how authentically she does them. You see… when she was 18 I took her to her first Mexican restaurant and she was so insecure about the foreign sounding food that she ordered a ‘Grilled Cheese Sandwich’ off the Children’s Menu. Times have changed for Janet!

I love the name of the ones called “Gorditas” or …  “little fatties”. They are of pure Mexican birthright and are named… not so hard to guess why… in that they are a bit overstuffed.

Alas… I am not!

And all of this talk of such things has fueled an immense need to go out in search of …
you guessed this as well… Corn Tortillas!

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