Feature illustration by Frédéric Lehnert (1836)
Some of my most vivid memories as a girl involve my weekly Sunday trek through the ‘hood to pick up tortillas from a local tortilla shop on 26th Street. I would wake up early and head to get fresh torts (the shortened, Americanized word for tortillas my family uses) for our breakfast. What I remember most about those peaceful walks is how the street-side smells of car exhaust and sewers would fade as I got closer to the tortilla bakery; the smell of corn getting stronger with each step. I would grab a few still-warm dozens and hurry home. Listen to me when I tell you that warm fresh tortillas straight off the factory conveyor belts are the best–in the absence of homemade ones, that is. Mmmmmm.
The word tortilla can refer to a number of different foods. But those don’t count here. I don’t care about those. No one does. That’s a fact. I am talking about what is undeniably the greatest flatbread ever–the superstar of the flatbread world, if you will: The Mexican Tortilla. For those of you who would like to learn more about the tortilla, here are eight key facts you must know:
8. Corn tortillas are made from a corn-based mixture known as masa.
According to some Indigenous American legends of the origin of man, the gods also formed us from the same maize dough. The next time you eat a corn tortilla, be gentle. You are eating your brother–or possibly, as I like to think of them, short round flat-faced cousins.
7. Flour tortillas were brought into existence when Spaniards introduced wheat and flour to the New World.
A tasty way to enjoy the European oppressor’s tortilla is to use it instead of bread in a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. No, it’s good. I mean, it’s good for when you want to regress to childhood with some P&B as opposed to a real meal. Try it.
6. Tortillas must be disposed of properly.
Do you know there is a proper way to dispose of old tortillas? If you ask my father, a simple God-fearing man from a rural part of Mexico, all tortillas must be ripped in half when they are being thrown away. The reason for this is that their circular image resembles the Eucharist wafer and God will get angry if He sees you throwing away the host or anything that so closely resembles the sacred host. (God doesn’t have the best eyesight, you know.) So, please make sure to dispose of your tortillas correctly. We don’t need any more of God’s ire down here.
5. Tortillas come in a U-shaped form for hard shell tacos.
At one time only used in Mexican cuisine, tortillas have now crossed over into new markets–although they are still most commonly associated with tacos. Do you know how to say “hard shell tacos” in Spanish? It’s “tacos de hard shell.” That’s right; Mexicans don’t eat hard shell tacos. You can thank Taco Bell for the widespread acceptance of this bastardized corn tortilla. But, is there a better vehicle for grade F meat? I think not. Much props, Taco Bell.
4. Proper tortilla folding will prevent taco spill-out.
Some people find tacos to be messy because fillings can fall out the other end of the taco when biting one end. But, sadly, the real problem is that many people are unfamiliar with proper tortilla-folding protocol. I blame society. Here’s a tip, people: TUCK THE BOTTOM OF YOUR TACO IN! I don’t know how many folks I have had to school on this practice but the issue of untucked tacos remains a serious problem. I will be holding live presentations on my tucking technique at several local taquerias soon. Please join me. Times TBD.
3. Tortillas are found in many foods, including pet foods.
Corn tortillas can be cut into triangles to make chilaquilles or nachos, but did you know that they have also been used as a central ingredient in dog food? Well, the dog food my Grandma fed her dog anyway. Her dog ate everything she ate including huevos rancheros, beans with tortillas, arroz con pollo–hell, even pan dulce. In the end, the dog probably had diabetes and needed kidney dialysis just like she did. Although, before any of you PETA folks get riled up, the dog lived a long life. Like, 15 human years or something crazy like that. For real.
2. Tortillas are used instead of utensils for some dishes.
When used in this fashion, the tortillas are ripped into smaller portions and used to grab food with your hands, like pita or injera is used. A lesser known use of the tortilla is as a blowgun. Simply lay a tortilla in one hand and use your other hand to roll it up tightly in one smooth motion starting at the base of your palm moving upward towards your fingertips, forming a tube. You can now use your tortilla blowgun to shoot small projectiles. This tortilla blowgun can also be used to poke into someone’s eye should you need to engage in more aggressive forms of dinner table self-defense.
1. Chicago is home to some of the largest and most popular tortilla factories in the country. One of the oldest and most well-respected is El Milagro. For those of you who have seen the package, have you ever wondered about the woman depicted on the package? Wonder no more. It’s my mother. She worked there as a teenager and claims that the owner was completely enamored with her. Rebuffing his advances, he was left with one final attempt to woo her by immortalizing her image–or so the tale goes. That’s correct y’all, had my mother made the right moves back in the day, I could have been a tortilla empire heiress. I’d be like Paris Hilton but with serious flava. Oh, well.
If you feel any important tortilla facts were left of this list, please help me in my efforts to educate the public by sharing them in our comments section. Also, if you would like to discuss more tortilla-related issues or wish for me to speak at your school or institution regarding tortillas, please do not hesitate to contact me.