Our typical lunch: tortillas, refried beans, chopped tomato & onion, avocado and cheese (this one was special because we found fresh spinach at the market). We don’t typically drink beer for lunch, Scott photobombed my tortilla photo.
We eat a lot of tortillas. They’re served with every meal. They’re great fillers. We’ve learned it’s totally ok to ask for more tortillas at a restaurant if you run out.
As something that constitutes a large part of our diet, we find it interesting as we move south to note the changes in the tortillas, how they’re made and sold.
First, the tortillas south of the US border are 100 times better than what we had available in our grocery stores. They shouldn’t even be able to call those things tortillas. It’s like calling Taco Bell, Mexican food.
Tortillas are incredibly easy to find. Sometimes they’re made by hand, sometimes by machine at a tortillaria. The machines’ conveyor belts all seem to make the same screechy noise, like they’re begging to be greased. It can be heard a couple of blocks away, so we just follow the noise. If they’re made by hand then we buy them from restaurants, food stands or there’s someone in every village with a “se vende tortilla” sign in front of their house. In really small villages, if there’s no one officially selling tortillas then we just ask around and inevitably someone has a couple extra to sell to us. The women are always making tortillas. Three times a day, for every meal. They’re best when they’re hot. Once they cool they start to get rubbery (we wrap them in a blanket to keep them warm while riding).
How they’re sold varies as well. In Mexico they’re sold by the kilo or half-kilo. In Guatemala they’re sold by the tortilla count (5 tortillas for 1 quetzal). In Belize they sell by the pound or half-pound. All of this becomes important because if you walk up to a Guatemalan woman requesting a half-kilo of tortillas she’ll look at you like you have two heads.
I prefer flour tortillas over corn and The Baja had THE BEST flour tortillas. They were delicious straight off the grill. Harina (flour) was one of the first Spanish words I learned when we arrived because the first thing they ask when you order tacos is: Maíz o Harina? Once we crossed to mainland Mexico it became more difficult to find flour tortillas as they became entirely corn based.
As we moved to Southern Mexico and neared the Oaxaca area there was a noticeable growth in diameter of the tortilla (larger than a dinner plate). Oaxaca is home of the tlayuda, made with giant tortillas.
In Chiapas, the tortillas returned to a more normal size, but seemed a little flimsy, less robust than the ones to the north.
The tortillas in Northern Guatemala were thick, a result of how they’re made. The women clap the tortilla into shape between their hands (in Mexico they’re pressed). So when we rolled into town I liked to pretend they were applauding our arrival (and not just making tortillas). We liked the Guatemalan tortillas because we could put a lot of filling in them and they wouldn’t fall apart.
Today we learned the tortillas in Belize are really small, barely bigger than the palm of my hand! They’re also thin and have holes. Tortillas with holes makes for messy eating. But we’ve also heard they make flour tortillas here in Belize. So now we’re on the hunt for the elusive flour tortilla!