Friday, 15 May 2015

Things to do in Mexico when you're hungry #2 - Tortillas

Tortillas are a staple of the Mexican diet, and have been since pre-Colombian times.  There are corn tortillas and (wheat) flour tortillas, the latter a more recent invention, and neither are really anything like the tortillas you can get from supermarkets in the UK.

Things to do in Mexico when you're hungry #2 Tortillas

Basically, in case you don't know, tortillas are round and flat and very thin.  They need to be heated up on the comal, a kind of flat metal plate used on top of the stove, and eaten warm and soft.  They are served in a special kind of basket wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm and accompany all different types of dishes instead of bread. You can even make tacos by putting a small amount of whatever dish you're eating - roast chicken, steak, scrambled egg, etc - on the tortilla and folding it in half or rolling it up.  Don't do this in "polite company", though, as it's considered bad table manners!

You can buy tortillas prepackaged from any shop, or you can buy them by the kilo from a tortillería, a little shop containing a noisy machine that churns out corn tortillas onto a conveyor belt.  The best tortillas, however, are handmade; slightly thicker and with a much better flavour and texture.

Things to do in Mexico when you're hungry #2 Tortillas

Corn tortillas are rich in calcium, fibre and potassium and low in fat.  For a significant segment of the Mexican population living in poor rural areas, tortillas provide as much as half of their protein intake and 70% of their calorie intake, making them an essential part of their diet.

It seems it was the Aztecs who "invented" the tortilla over three millennia ago and who also developed the process of nixtamalizacion which is still used today, although generally on a more industrial scale.  This word originates from Nahuatl (the Aztec language); nixtli, which means ash or lime, and tamalli, which means corn dough.  This ancient process basically consists of cooking the corn in water with lime (calcium hydroxide, not the fruit!) and has several functions, including increasing the nutritional value of the tortilla and making the proteins more easily digestible, prolonging shelf life and improving the flavour.

Apart from being an accompaniment to the main dish, a lot of classic Mexican dishes and snacks are made with tortillas.  Quesadillas are the easiest thing in the world to make and are so delicious: just put some meltable cheese on one half of a tortilla, fold over the other half and heat on the comal (or fry) until the cheese melts.  I like my quesadillas toasted till they're crispy!

Things to do in Mexico when you're hungry #2 Tortillas

Then you have flautas which are tortillas filled with cheese, shredded chicken or potato, rolled up into thin tubes and and fried until crispy, served with salad, cream, crumbled white cheese and salsa.

Tostadas use a crispy toasted or fried tortilla as a base on which to pile on different toppings.

Sincronizadas are another simple snack to make, usually with flour tortillas.  Put cheese, ham, avocado, tomato and lettuce between two tortillas and heat on the comal.

One of my favourite soups is Sopa de Tortilla or Sopa Azteca.  It's made with strips of fried tortilla in a tomato and chile pasilla broth (unfortunately I don't have a recipe as I've never made it myself), served with chunks of white cheese, avocado and cream.

These same fried tortilla strips or triangles are used in a typical Mexican breakfast - chilaquiles.  In this dish they're covered in a green or red salsa and you can add shredded chicken or scrambled egg, cheese, cream and avocado.  It's one of the traditional hangover cures - the hotter the salsa, the better!

And of course you have the ubiquitous tacos; small tortillas usually with a meat filling, although you can get other types of fillings.  You have to add salsa and lime juice to your tacos, and maybe some chopped onion and coriander, too.  You can buy them from a taqueria or a taco stand in the street; they're everywhere!

So, there you have it - cheap, versatile and nutritious.  Provecho!


I got some of the facts and figures mentioned here from this article (in Spanish) about tortillas de maiz.

You can read the first post in this series here and my post 11 years in Mexico has more about my food adventures from my first few months in Mexico.

Seychelles Mama

17 comments:

  1. I love Mexican food - just really discovered it when I moved to the US as we have a family run, authentic restaurant near me. It is one of my favs!

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Authentic Mexican food is really varied and delicious, isn't it?

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  2. Did you know, I eat Tortilla's every day! Yes my hubby and I have one circle each and fill it with chicken, salad and healthy goodness. This is part of my healthy eating plan and I love them. Angela xx

    Angela recently posted "A whole lot of banana’s" http://wp.me/p5XRN6-1lP

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    1. Great! My mum also has tortillas for lunch nearly every day as she doesn't really eat bread. The tortillas she gets in the UK, though are very different to the ones we have here. Thanks for commenting!

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    2. Yes, they are different, we have wholemeal one's lol. Angela

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  3. You just made me so hungry for all of these things and it's only 7am haha!!!!! Really enjoyed this, it's amazing how versitile the tortilla is and very interesting just how important it is in Mexican society!!
    Thanks for sharing this lovely :)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I Only touched on a few tortilla-based dishes, but there are loads more - I may need to write a Part 2! Thanks for hosting:)

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  4. Wow all that food has made me a bit peckish, I always forget there's such a huge variety!

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    1. I hope I was able to make it all sound appetizing! There's a lot more variety, I only included a few examples. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. stopping over the link up, your blog name caught my eye (we're Mexican's in Germany).. we miss tortillas here too, the ones we can find are nowhere near authentic ones.. but the Turkish ones are pretty close to tortillas de harina!

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    1. You must miss Mexican food so much! There are quite a few supposedly authentic Mexican restaurants in different places, but without the authentic ingredients, the food is just not quite the same. Thanks for your comment!

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  6. My mouth is watering at this! We used to have Mexican friends living nearby, and I discovered just how good (and different!) homemade tortillas are at theirs. I really must try to make them again myself!

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    1. I must confess I've never made my own tortillas, I th there's a knack to it, and besides, they're so cheap to buy here. One day, perhaps, I'll try it! They are definitely so much tastier than bought ones, though, so it would be worth it!

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  7. Interesting and fun post. I love that in our expat adventures we get to try things that we never knew about before or might have known about but our culture has altered to fit our taste! Thanks for sharing

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    1. Yes, I think perhaps the most exciting thing about visiting another country is trying new and unknown food! Glad you liked the post - I'll be writing more about Mexican food soon! Thanks for visiting!

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  8. I LOVE quesadillas! I find it hard to get corn tortillas over here and I can't eat the wheat ones. Now I have a hankering for them! #MyExpatFamily

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    1. They are really delicious, aren't they? Maybe you'll have to resort to making your own corn tortillas? Thanks for reading and commenting!

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