In Defence of the Tortilla
Eating tortillas doesn’t have to be a bland and joyless task. By Dale Sabor
If there’s one thing you’re pretty much guaranteed to eat while you’re in Guatemala, that would be the tortilla. Ostensibly a staple, the tortilla is much more than that – many Guatemalans complain that they don’t feel full unless they’ve eaten tortillas with their meal and sadly, in many poorer homes, tortillas are often the meal, with a little lemon and salt for flavor.
But even so, the tortilla is not a huge favorite amongst foreigners. “A lumpy piece of bland stomach fodder” is probably one of the kinder things that has been said about it.
It need not be that way. If you’re eating tortillas at home, there are some simple guidelines to ensure that it’s a delicious dining experience.
Ideally, you’ll have an abuela in the corner of your kitchen slapping out fresh tortillas all day. Failing that, you’ll have to get down to a tortillería. These are everywhere. Here’s your first decision: for a thin, flaky tortilla (like you’d want if you were eating tacos), you want machine-made. For a thicker and heartier tortilla (to accompany a soup for example), hand-made are best. Tip: The blue corn ones look weird, but are especially tasty.
While you’ll definitely buy your tortillas hot, the biggest mistake you can make is to eat them just like that. On the way home, your tortillas steam away in their plastic bag, paper wrap or banana leaf and attain a fairly disagreeable state of doughy mushiness. What you need now is a comal – a round, tortilla-specific hotplate. If you don’t have one you can use a frying pan (without oil) in a similar way.
What you want to do is basically toast the two sides of the tortilla until they turn a golden brown and the tortilla has a bit of crunch to it. A couple of small, black burnt spots are OK – they add flavor.
This is where the real tortilla travesties take place. You may be tempted, for speed and convenience sakes, to reheat your tortillas in the microwave. Bad mistake. The end result is a rubbery overheated little disc of nothingness that nobody is going to love. Trust us – take the extra two minutes and always reheat on the comal.