Tortillas were an enigma to me. They showed up on my plate at a fast food restaurant in Florida in 1973 during a winter vacation with my family. It was the holiday season and we were basking in the warmth of the Southern Florida climate.
That should have been enough to make me jump up and down as a giddy teenager -- getting a coveted winter tan that everyone would be jealous of because in 1973 no one had an inkling of an idea just how harmful that sun was, especially on skin slathered with baby oil. But what made me really excited was our first lunch at ¡Taco Viva! Yes, a Mexican restaurant made me so happy and little did I know that 40 years later I'd be living in the land of Tortillas de Maize. What serendipity!
Fast food was still a relatively new phenomenon in the New Jersey suburbs where I grew up and Palm Beach didn't have them at all, but a little ride down A1A and over the bridge to Boynton Beach and there it was -- ¡Taco Viva! I recall a pretty nondescript building, with a white stucco facade and the appearance of a Spanish tile roof.
But I loved the food! I remember tacos with onions, tomatoes cheese and sour cream and a flavor profile we've never experienced before. I was smitten. I wanted ¡Taco Viva! every day. But ... my family didn't. So I had it a time or two on each vacation break, but I wanted more.
It was the corn tortillas -- crispy and filled with corn flavor. We had nothing like it in Jersey and Taco Bell was years away.
I grew up to continue loving Mexican food and especially the corn tortillas. I have kept tortillas in my fridge at all times for years, but they are the packaged variety. The only truly authentic thing is the corn flavor, but when compared to tortillas that are patted out by hand using a dough made of fresh boiled corn there is no comparison.
When I go to Hacienda San Lucas in Copán, I am always mesmerized by the tortilla-making activity in the authentic kitchen This visit I spent a bit more time getting closer in an attempt to capture what it takes to make one of these delicious orbs of corn and hard work.
I had no idea that the best tortillas de maize are made with the big, fat kernels of corn I see on some cobs at the supermarket. I could never understand what that corn was used for and now I know. It's put in a pot and cleaned and boiled and then using a kind of flat molcajete with a curve in it to knead the dough.
Who would have thought there was anything other than Maseca corn flour and water or plastic bags with mass produced tortillas in the supermarket? These tortillas have a nicer texture and fold easier because they are more pliable.
I put together a short video to show you the women in the Hacienda San Lucas kitchen and the tortillas-making process.
I hope you enjoy!