Knowing how much Jack and I love sampling Mexican dishes, my tutor Lety invited us to join her and Susana, her sister, and their mother on their usual Sunday outing. Every Sunday they get together to go to the little puebla of Cieneguita, not far from San Miguel, to eat tortillas made the old way, by hand, not as restaurants and grocery stores around most of Mexico now serve them, made by machines.
“Do they really taste that different?” I asked, doubtful. “Come taste for yourself. My mother she goes crazy for them. She remembers when everyone made tortillas by hand, all the women had prensas (presses) to make them with. And they knew how to pat them using their hands to make gorditas. Now, it’s too much trouble and people are lazy. But in the little puebla of Cieneguita, very near San Miguel, the people still make them that way. Mama says the best place is Cero’s. We will take you there. It’s very very clean this place or my mother wouldn't eat there. She’s very particular. When we go you can watch them make the tortillas and the gorditas and order what you like, stuffed with chicken or beef or pork and cactus. It’s muy rico, very delicious, and not expensive like restaurants in San Miguel.”
Of course Jack was all in when it came to a new food adventure. but before we went, Lety, always the teacher, sent me an article describing the near magic of making authentic fine tortillas. They are serious issues in Mexico. Mexicans eat them with every meal. It is nearly an obsession with them. Corn, not wheat, is used. Corn is rich with history and meaning. When the land and the people were too poor for anything else, it was corn that sustained them. it was seen as the gift from God chosen to feed the Mexican people. Corn is the symbol of Mexico itself.
Centuries ago the people learned to take what is essentially nutritionless corn or maiz, which is harvested when it has dried on the stalk , and turn it into something with enough nourishment to sustain generations. The process they learned, called Nlmixtalization, produces masa, the key to making tender, pliable, delicious tortillas and many, many other dishes.
Susana drove us maybe 15 minutes into the countryside where the highway was lined with roadside food stands. She pulled into a space to park the car in front of Cero’s. Every table but one was filled, including one with polizia with enormous weapons at their sides and huge plates of tortilla filled food in front of them. Behind the customers’ tables were women making the delicacies I had read about. Even though someone came to our table to take our orders, I had to go watch briefly the women as they worked. But it was 10:00 by then and we hadn't had breakfast yet and I couldn't wait to taste the 2 enchiladas that would be coming for me soon.
And let me tell you, I am now a believer! It was just as Lety and the article said. The tortillas with onions and salsa verda I had at Cero’s today tasted nothing like what I’ve had before from my neighborhood tortilleria, and I thought those were so much tastier than the kind I’ve had in the States.. But these soft buttery tortillas would be worth the trip to San Miguel. We’ll go with you to Cero’s when you come. That’s a promise!