Tortillas -- The Real Deal

fresh tortillasHalf a dozen doors up the street is a thriving corn mashing business.
You probably thought I was talking about some moonshine facility right here in Poor Man’s Shangri La – you would be wrong. This corn is mashed into masa de maíz dough for tortillas and the like.

Fresh grilled tortillas are not unique to Mexico but they are ubiquitous here. And you will never find authentic tortillas north of the border – I do not believe.

Oh, there are some reasonable tortilla makers north of the border – Rick Bayless’ restaurants make some pretty authentic Mexican food. And you can buy some pretty fine machine assisted tortillas. But there are some situations where charm and tradition quite mysteriously influence the outcome.

Tortillas coming off hot comals resting over wood fired stone stoves – flat bread dough that has been squeezed and then lovingly pounded with the heel of the palm of a brown skinned hand, cast on the grill with ballet like hand and arm gestures; then spun and turned with calloused finger tips until golden – well it just does not get any better than that.

Scattered around the Hood this morning are ladies who before dawn walked to that corn grinding outfit up the road; many with a pastel colored bucket brimming with soaked corn kernels. There they wait in line as an hombre takes their kernels, depositing them in a shoot that delivers them to spinning grind wheels. Out the other end plop clumps of dough. The sleepy eyed patrons are quiet as he goes about his work.

Or if you are like us, for five pesos one can just buy a kilo dough ball ground from their corn.

Meanwhile back at their casa perhaps a daughter or sister has been preparing the wood fire.

In a short time a basket will start filling with warm scrumptious tortillas kept warm beneath a thin cloth dish towel. Often the warm tortillas do not make it to the basket. An hombre or nino interrupts its path flipping the almost too hot to handle little torta from one hand to the other quickly to keep any one hand from absorbing too much heat.

Flipping Tortillas

Those interrupted issues will probably be rolled up and ingested while sucking air to help cool down the mouth at entry. The warmth and wafting aroma will take the chill off the morning as the first few bites travel flipping tortillasdown to heat the belly. I mean to tell you right here – it just does not get any better than that.

After the immediacy of fresh tortillas has been satiated, more will be removed from underneath the now steaming cloth; to be filled with a dollop or two of beans or a sliver of cheese and a piece of a pepper. Perhaps the tortilla will envelop some eggs and chorizo.

Many adept hombres will tear a triangular part of a tortilla that will be formed into a spoon-like edible utensil to scoop up their sopa – no silverware required here at desayuno (breakfast). It is all good and has been being done for mucho generations.
The tortilla is ingrained in the Mexican experience. You have to be here. It is as simple and as complex as that.

¡Manténgase Sintonizado! (i.e. Stay Tuned)

John Calypso lives outside Veracruz, Mexico, as well as Puerto Escondido. Back in the 60s, he was a very hip guy living in Hollywood and rubbing shoulders with Beatles and Monkees. Read lots more in his blog, Viva Veracruz.

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