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Mi Merida: Tortillas… REAL ones…

Dommy Dec 28, 2007 03:23 PM

Greetings everyone on the Mexico Board (Or where ever this ends up!)! My name is Dommy, soy Yucateca, pero, you can most often find me on the L.A. board posting about the great burritos the city has to offer… And why, you might ask yourself, Burritos and not Tacos? Well… Because I really don’t like Tacos…

I know, I know… You probably want kick me outta here by saying such things… But I am sure you guys will understand… tortillas in the U.S. stink!! I mean, they don’t even hold a candle to the ones from Mexico!! I’ve tried over and over to explain this to the L.A. people and they still don’t get it…

Well this fall, I went back to Merida with Camera in hand looking to seek out the food I grew up with. So that when I sneer about Tacos and Bollios and Kibis that I find in the U.S., I can point to them and say, “You see THIS… this is how it should be done…” I look forward to your comments to add to any of the visuals and I hope you enjoy these posts as well…

Okay, enough of that, but on to the chow…

I was both blessed and cursed to find the worlds most perfect tortilla at a young age. It was around the corner from my grandmothers house, in Merida. And we would make the trek to La Estrella every morning…


So when I took P. to Merida for the first time this year, it was the first spot we hit on our culinary tour. And I am so happy to see that NOTHING has changed… not even the old Tortilla machine…


But before we could start he machine, we needed Masa…

Unlike most tortilla makers in the U.S. and even some in Mexico, La Estrealla still uses nixtamal…


Which they grind themselves…


This adds not only color (Since Yucatan corn is golden) but also the pure essence of corn flavor that just corn flour based tortillas (read: US ones) just can never provide…

However, corn flour, or the ubiquitous Maseca is not completely evil…


As it is added to the ground nixtamal for texture reasons. That is why I also can’t stand those ‘rustic’ tortillas they sell at TJs and Whole Foods. Too coarse of a Masa does nothing to make the tortilla taste better!

And so using a secret ratio (Every tortilleria has one), the Nixtamal and Maseca is beat until fluffy and smooth


And now we got a masa worth having…


And so now to turn on the Tortilla machine. Which, is not as easy as you might think… This is an ancient machine remember… it needs a little help…


The ignition by hand always scared me a little bit, but the Tortilla lady (Daughter of the man who started the place) has it down pat. She gets out of the way before the machine shrieks and flames alive


While the machine warms up, she arranged the Masa on the tortilla cutter just so… Making test cuts and collecting them before they get into the cold oven. Eventually she senses the heat is just right by standing next to it and lets the machine do its thing…


Going from the cutter, into the oven and then out come out perfect, toasty, cooked tortillas…


She stacks them up in a Styrofoam container to make sure they stay warm, as the customers come up and by them by the kilo


But I get ones fresh off the line… The warm texture and corny smell, like I did as a kid, I instantly eat one right up…


I do admit though, while la Estrella is still my favorite all around traditional tortilla, I have been known to stray to another one in the next neighborhood where they make Tortillas made of Chaya!


And so now you see... why I just can not abide by those thick, stale, flavorless tortillas we have in the U.S. And why I leave all my taco eatting to Mexico and happily make due with my Burritos in L.A.



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  1. kare_raisu Dec 28, 2007 07:51 PM

    This is wonderful Dommy...
    I think this is the first post to go into detail the production of tortillas and its illustrated...how valuable is that!

    It makes you appreciate the hard work involved in creating THE basis of Mexican cuisine.

    4 Replies
    1. re: kare_raisu
      Dommy Dec 28, 2007 08:15 PM

      Thanks so much Kare that is exactly what I was trying to get at. In my studies I've come across more than one notion that Mexican cuisine is truly about love because of all the components that go into it and that food is literally fed from hand to mouth.


      1. re: Dommy
        kare_raisu Dec 28, 2007 09:11 PM

        I went to an exhibit today at the San Diego Museum of Man and it got me thinking of pre-conquest Yucatec food.
        http://www.museumofman.org/html/exhib... (btw, the huge stelae are amazing!
        )One of the artifacts was a dish that had the image of a peccary (small hairy boar-like creature) from 800ad. Could I assume that the Maya were using this animal perhaps in an early form of cochinita pibil - presumably with some other hoja than bannana?

        1. re: kare_raisu
          Dommy Dec 28, 2007 09:54 PM

          Thanks for that!! An excuse to do a day trip to SD! :D

          As far as I know, the Spaniard brought all pork... However, large rodents like the Nutria have always been common in Latin America... so that might be a possibilty

          Herm... now I'm glad that they brought the pork... LOL! :D


          1. re: Dommy
            Eat_Nopal Dec 30, 2007 02:50 PM

            The Peccary was mentioned in the Popol Vuh and plays an important role in Mayan cosmology... I do believe that a dish similar to Cochinita Pibil using Peccary has been concocted in the Tabasco area at least since Olmec times (there is a nice depiction in a set of vases extracted from the La Venta)... I am not sure what leaf they might have used as a wrapper (the vases don't provide a good enough clue).

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