Tortillas in Puebla

In Puebla, no one eats mole without tortillas. Whether used as a spoon or to make a taco or enchiladas, this corn-based favorite is always on the table.

By Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Tortillero con tortilla blancaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Tortilla holder with white tortilla

Tortillas are the main source of protein, calories and energy of the Mexican population. Demanding a high quality tortilla made with nixtamalized corn, unlike the version made with industrial flour, is key for the country to conserve proper nutrition.

Diversidad del maíz en PueblaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Diversity of corn in Puebla

The criollo corns that are grown and continue to fill the corn fields of Puebla are mainly tuxpeño, cónico, elotes cónicos, cacahuacintle, arrocillo, bolita, palomero toluqueño and chalqueño all in various colors.

NixtamalizaciónCocina Cinco Fuegos

Nixtamalization

Mesoamerican in origin, nixtamalization is a technique that involves cooking corn with the mineral lime, which makes it easier to digest, more nutritious and flexible, and helps preserve it. This technique is one of Mesoamerica's most important culinary contributions to the world.

As it was done in ancient times, ash from firewood is also used to nixtamalize. As such, the word "nixtamalize" comes from the Nahuatl words nixtli and tamalli, which mean ash and dough, respectively. 

CenizaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Ash

Our ancestors discovered that when corn is cooked with wood ash, it generates a chemical reaction that makes this grain more nutritious, and also gives the masa a more pleasant flavor.

To this day, there are many regions in our country that continue to use ash to make tortillas and tamales.

CalCocina Cinco Fuegos

Lime

Lime is one of the three ingredients required to make corn tortillas. Thanks to it, we can carry out the nixtamalization process and obtain flexible, nutritious and delicious tortillas. However, tortillas cannot be made with just any kind of lime. There are two types that are used to prepare nixtamalized foods.

One of them is "quicklime," which is chemically known as calcium oxide. When water is added to this "quicklime," the reaction of the calcium oxide with the water turns it into calcium hydroxide or "slaked lime." It should be noted that lime is a product that is obtained when limestone is calcined at an approximate temperature of 1800ºF.

ProcesoCocina Cinco Fuegos

Process

There is not one exclusive recipe to make tortillas, and it may vary depending on the traditions, tastes and corns available in each home or region.

However, it is important to note that in all cases, it is prepared following three main steps: nixtamalization, grinding and preparing the tortilla, in a method that only uses corn, water and lime.

Pichancha con maíz nixtamalizadoCocina Cinco Fuegos

Pichancha with nixtamalized corn

The pichancha or tlalchiquihuite is a clay pot with small perforations, which is used to wash the nixtamal. This utensil allows the nejayote (the water with lime in which the corn is cooked during the nixtamalization process) to be strained. It is mainly used in the southeast region of Mexico in states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas.

MetateCocina Cinco Fuegos

Metate

The metate is one of the oldest instruments in Mexican gastronomy and is used for grinding different ingredients. It is accompanied by a piece called the "metlapil," which aids in the process by being scraped against the metate in order to grind the ingredients. The metate is usually handmade from volcanic rock.

MolinoCocina Cinco Fuegos

Mill

Although nixtamal mills have been slowly disappearing in the cities, in many places people continue to bring buckets of corn to the mill to obtain the masa for tortillas.

The vast majority of corn mills, in which tortilla masa is made, use stones as the grinding element.

The use of stones to work the masa is reminiscent of the traditional method of grinding the grain in the metate.

Comales de Los Reyes MetzontlaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Comales of Los Reyes Metzontla

The comal or comalli, a flattened circular dish, is linked to the preparation of tortillas and foods such as molotes, tlacoyos, sopes and quesadillas, among others.

Clay is the material from which comales have been made since pre-Hispanic times, although today metal is the most prevalent.

TlecuilCocina Cinco Fuegos

Tlecuil

Tlecuil is the word used to describe the stove on top of which the comal is placed to make the tortillas. This word is of Nahuatl origin and comes from the words tletl: "fire" and cuil "to take in hand."

Tortillas palmeadasCocina Cinco Fuegos

Handmade tortillas

The "palmeadoras," or tortilla makers, are women dedicated to making tortillas by hand, thanks to their mastery of the technique of passing the masa from one hand to the other to give it its shape. The wood or metal press has now replaced the palmeadoras.

CoapeñasCocina Cinco Fuegos

Coapeñas

Coapan is a town located within the municipality of Tehuacán, Puebla, which is famous for making the most delicious tortillas from nixtamalized corn, an activity that provides work to many families in the community and that represents a very important part of its culture and tradition.

For over 20 years, Coapan has held a traditional race of female tortilla makers, which harks back to the time when the women of Coapan had to run from their community to the center of Tehuacán to be sure to get a good space close to the market to sell their tortillas.

Tortillería tradicionalCocina Cinco Fuegos

Traditional tortilla shop

Tortillas made in a traditional tortilla shop have no comparison in terms of quality and flavor, as they use nixtamalized corn kernels. This version will never be matched by imitations made with corn flour.

Mole y tortillasCocina Cinco Fuegos

Mole and tortillas

Making mole tacos is a common practice in Puebla. This circular food serves as a spoon and to balance the intense flavor of the moles that can vary depending on whether they are made in Cholula, in the Sierra Norte, in Mixteca or in the capital of Puebla, as each family has its own version.

TacoCocina Cinco Fuegos

Taco

Among the most popular options, whether in the morning or in the afternoon, are tacos placeros (literally "plaza tacos"), which, as their name suggests, are traditionally served in plazas, markets and parks.

Their fillings are quite varied, ranging from stuffed chili peppers to stewed meats all the way to rice with hard-boiled egg.

Mesa poblana con tortillasCocina Cinco Fuegos

Traditional Puebla table with tortillas

Everything about Puebla is so cool and tasty! Its chalupas, memelas, quesadillas and tamales adorn the tables of this state

And we can't forget about its moles (always flanked by red rice with cilantro, tomato, garlic, onion), its ever-present tortillas and, of course, its "tamalitos tontos."

Credits: Story

Curators:

Fundación Tortilla
Rafael Mier
Wendy Pérez


Photographers /  Creators:

Gilberto Hernández

Lilia Martínez y Torres

Archives:

Fundación Tortilla
Barro y Fuego

Dishes:

Eloina Martínez Torres
Catalina Cuautle Meza

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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