Whether you are from Germany, Canada, the United States, or virtually any other country on earth, chances are you’re familiar with tortillas. However, unlike most other countries where tortillas are made of flour, the bulk of tortillas enjoyed by Mexicans are made out of corn.
In Yucatán, corn tortillas are an everyday staple and are enjoyed by just about everyone. This, of course, is nothing new, as archaeological evidence tells us that corn tortillas have been eaten in Yucatán for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, did you know that the ancient Maya believed that mankind was actually made from corn? That’s right – according to the Maya, people and tortillas are basically made up of the same magic stuff: corn.
But corn tortillas as we know them would not be possible without a process known as Nixtamalization, which was (no surprise) developed by ancient Maya peoples. Through this process, corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution made up of lime water. It is then washed and hulled. Nixtamalized maize has several benefits including easier grinding, a great increase in nutritional values, as well as improved taste and aroma.
Though factory-made prepackaged tortillas can be found fairly easily, most people in Yucatán would scoff at the idea of eating their favorite dishes with anything other than hand-made tortillas or at least fresh tortillas from a Molino (mill). Fresh handmade tortillas are without a doubt the most delicious option, especially when prepared on a Comal (a type of Mexican griddle) by expert hands who know how to shape and cook them to perfection. Several restaurants in Yucatán employ “Tortilleras” to prepare hundreds of tortillas a day which are served almost as quickly as they are produced. The process may look simple enough, but I assure you that it is not. If you don’t believe me, feel free to give it a try yourself. You are likely to mangle at least a dozen or so before you manage to produce a remotely passable tortilla.
If you are interested in making handmade tortillas, you may want to consider buying a special press called a Maricona. These presses can help you make your tortillas nice and thin, without the need for years of experience. They can be purchased at traditional city markets in a variety of materials, but if you are serious about making tortillas I would recommend the nice and heavy ones made of cast iron. They can usually be had for $150 – $200 pesos.
Though handmade tortillas are certainly best, most people in Yucatán do not have time to make fresh tortillas from scratch for every meal. This is where neighborhood Molinos or mills come into play. Think of them as small-scale factories dedicated to making and directly selling fresh machine-pressed tortillas to eager customers. Molinos often double as small convenience stores and power up their mills around 11 am in order to serve up fresh tortillas just in time for lunch. Aside from tortillas, most Molinos also sell Masa and make other tortilla-based products such as Tostadas and Codzitos (fried or baked rolled up tortillas), often adding their own blend of spices and a dash of salt.
Next time you are enjoying some delicious Cochinita Pibil or Queso Relleno, don’t forget about the humble yet amazing corn tortilla. Honestly, they really do go great with just about everything, or even on their own or with a sprinkle of salt and squeeze of lime in a “Taco de Nada” – a nothing taco.
Editorial by Carlos Rosado.
Coming from a Mexican/Canadian family, Carlos Rosado is an adventure travel guide, blogger, and photographer with studies in Multimedia, Philosophy, and Translation.
Photography by Carlos Rosado for use in Yucatán Today.
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