My visit to Oaxaca was eye-opening in many ways. This is the story of how great ingredients and skilled hands can transform simple ingredients into a remarkable corn tortilla.
And you won’t have to travel thousands of miles to taste a fabulous corn tortilla like me. . . You can find them right at the Overland Park Farmers Market!!
Growing up, I thought that corn tortillas were just for those unfortunate folks who were allergic to wheat.
My only experience with corn tortillas were that they were dry and gritty, in contrast to the moist – but TOTALLY tasteless – flour versions.
It wasn’t until I visited my cousin in Mexico the other year that I found out what a REAL corn tortilla was.
They ONLY served corn tortillas there, and I had determined that I wouldn’t let the unpleasant flavor hold me back from enjoying some authentic Mexican fare.
But then that first corn tortilla hit my mouth . . . It was delicious! Moist and not gritty at all!
By day three, I was eating corn tortillas straight: A squeeze of lime juice on the warm tortilla, then roll it up and start munching! Wonderful snack.
My cousin Mary lived with her husband in southern Mexico, in the Oaxaca region, and I had always thought it would be cool to go see them some time.
But when the opportunity presented itself for me to go down with 3 other friends, I was a little unprepared.
I can’t speak a stitch of Spanish.
Thankfully, my travel companions could at least read it – even if they weren’t confident enough to speak it.
We took the bus some 4 hours south of Mexico City and confidently departed near midnight at the necessary bus stop (because we had a GPS with us!).
We four girls stayed a week, helping hoe the corn fields, prepare juice for peddling, and cooking. And eating!
Mary was transplanted to Mexico after her marriage, but has mastered the local way of cooking, due to her mother-in-laws assistance.
Mary did her best to convert us into master Mexican chefs during our week there.
My friend Sara got the red rice figured out so well that she could make it unsupervised!
I was an expert veggie chopper . . . And then: TORTILLA CLASS!
We mixed up our own masa, from corn ground right in the village, learning how to tell if it was the right consistency for turning into balls.
Mary’s little 8 year old daughter was an excellent demonstrator!
Pressing them was pretty easy, which was largely my job, but the hardest part was plopping that flatted tortilla on the fire-warmed tortilla stone!
I know, it sounds silly, but it takes dexterity to move a flatted masa circle onto the griddle without tearing it.
There’s a certain way to pick it up, but the real challenge comes in getting it to slide off your hand . . . You had to hand-ball a certain amount of tortillas so that your hands were coated in masa to provide a bit of non-stickiness for the tortilla to slide off of.
And no simple flipping it on the griddle, but laying it down gently with a sideways motion while whisking your hand away before the heat caused the masa to soften and stick to your hand!
Apparently, I have hot hands . . . Or else I was trying so hard that my blood pressure was rising and pumping more hot blood to my extremities!
The other girls quickly mastered the tortilla pass-off, but they kept sticking to the heel of my hand!
I began to despair of winning the Mexican housekeeper award . . . Local tradition says that a girl is culinarily competent enough to be married when her tortillas “puff”.
And my tortillas couldn’t puff when they kept tearing!
But, persistence paid off, and long at last I successfully cooled down enough to pass off my tortillas!
And that blessed little tortilla set there on the hot stone, and PUFFED!
Since that day, I thought corn tortillas THAT good could only be found in Mexico. So imagine my surprise when I found them a few stalls away at a farmers market in KANSAS!
Have you met Marissa and Mark at their OPFM booth yet?
Due to some magical method called Nixtamalization, their tortillas are much more nutritious and you can actually taste and smell the corn. They’re OUTSTANDING!
Yoli Tortilleria was created to fill the authentic tortilla void that founders Marissa and Mark noticed in Kansas City. Yoli takes pride in producing the best quality tortillas while ensuring they are mindful of the land and those who are involved in every step of the process. Yoli (pronounced yo-lee) comes from the Aztec word meaning “to live” and embraces the attitude “to live adventurously as seekers of quality, hand-crafted foods.” Read more about their origins here.