The Tortilla: Simple, Yet Complicated

May 14, 2018


Tortillas are the mainstay of Mexican cuisine. They form the basic structure of most traditional Mexican dishes, such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. Authentic Mexican tortillas are always a high-quality experience due to the wholesome and high-quality ingredients. Tortillas appear to be very simplistic fare -- just mix some water with corn flour and fry up the dough. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reason why tortillas are so delicious is because their proper preparation involves a sophisticated and complex process with the best of ingredients. Drop by Rica Salsa sometime because our tortillas are made the old-fashioned way by a genuine Mexican chef par excellence! Read on for a fascinating journey through the world of tortillas.  


"In the beginning there was maize" is the irreverent introduction to all-things-tortilla by 'Virtuous Bread' in their essay, "What makes Mexican food so good?" (2016). In the U.S. and Canada, corn and maize are one and the same. Ancient farmers in Mexico were the first to domesticate maize from a process of selective breeding. It is used in Mexico to make a smooth dough that takes many forms, the most famous of these being tortillas.


According to 'Virtuous Bread', even though the Spanish introduced wheat to Mexico and its flour was also used to make tortillas, the best ones - reserved for dishes like tamales and quesadillas - are always made from corn dough. "So, you get it, corn rules" the authors state cheekily. These supposedly superior tortillas are not made from 'corn flour dough' but are tenderly created with corn dough. This is where the simple tortilla gets complicated. 


No cook worth their salt (no pun intended) uses maize flour to make corn tortillas. Instead, they follow a time-consuming method that involves a little bit of elbow grease. They 'nixtamalize' the maize before squashing it into a dough, a traditional process for the preparation of maize. Whole cobs are soaked in water with a three percent chalk solution which breaks down the outer membrane of each kernel and makes the corn digestible. Then the kernels are removed from the cob and squashed with a mortar and pestle or ground into a fine dough -- ready to form into tortillas and then cooked. 


"Nixtamalized maize has several benefits over unprocessed grain: it is more easily ground; its nutritional value is increased; and its flavor and aroma are improved." (Wikipedia) 'Tortillas de maiz' - tortillas made with corn dough - are high in quality, taste, and are chock full of wholesome goodness. However, there is a caveat: those 'Virtual Bread' killjoys insist that "It's extremely fiddly to make proper corn dough." They even have the audacity to suggest that no decent tortillas are made north of Mexico: "That is one of the reasons Mexican food outside of Mexico is so disappointing: the corn tortillas are so bad and good Mexican food relies on good tortillas (among other things)." 


Maybe that 'virtuous' team should come to Victoria B.C. and have a meal at Rica Salsa. Our extraordinary tortillas and our scrumptious authentic Mexican cuisine will change their minds in a New York minute. 


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