How to use tortillas - Inspiration from Mexico City
I have had the good fortune of traveling the world and writing about food at the top restaurants for many years. I currently live in Mexico City which is experiencing a gastronomic renaissance and when Rise & Puff asked me to write about my favorite tortilla pairings, I was excited to share my local insights.
Almost any food in Mexico can be used to fill a tortilla.
Every region of Mexico has different traditions and special dishes. Virtually none can be called complete without tortillas, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner. While the tortilla is a constant, their styles change as you travel the country; in the south, you’ll find a white corn tortilla, while the classic yellow ones are found in the center of the country. Many other colors show the variety of endemic corn. In the north, the queen of queens is the Sonoran style flour tortilla. Northern Mexicans are devoted to this style and their unique texture and flavor.
The nation’s capital and one of the most populated cities in the world, it’s no surprise that Mexico City has everything, and its resident chilangos eat are passionate about their filings. The following are some of my favorite pairings.
It is very common to find flour tortillas served alongside eggs, for breakfast. Scrambled eggs with jam into a flour tortilla is a combination that every Mexican remembers from childhood. And there are many other favorites.
Few things say Mexico as the word quesadilla does. It’s the simplest combination, but at the same time, the greatest: just cheese and a tortilla. Most Mexicans choose quesillo — or queso Oaxaca — as their preferred cheese. However, at taquerias and at home, many Mexicans opt for manchego cheese, which melts easier and brings an amazing flavor to the tortilla. Salsa macha will bring your quesadilla together and adding some refried beans to the quesadilla will blow your mind.
Where to eat: All taquerías is Mexico City had a quesadilla option, one of the favorites is El Califa Taqueria (@elcalifa_mx).
The most iconic Mexico City taco is al pastor: pork prepared with a tasty combination of chiles and cooked on a vertical rotisserie, like shawarma. It’s topped with roasted pineapple, chopped onions and cilantro. It is impossible not to like it and, frustratingly, near impossible to replicate the taste. The best derivative of taco al pastor is called a gringa, the same type of meat, but inside two flour tortillas (like a taco sandwich), held together with cheese. This is definitely the most memorable and original way you will try flour tortillas in Mexico City.
Where to eat: Selene Taqueria has the best gringas in town (@taqueriaselene).
My Burrito, Not Yours
The truth is, finding burritos in Mexico City is not as easy as you might imagine. In general, they aren't as ubiquitous in Mexico as Americans might think if they were going by their appearance on menus in US Mexican restaurants. Burritos were born in the north of the country (specifically Ciudad Juárez, according to legend) and they became a representative dish of Tex Mex food.
The basic ingredients that make up a burrito are: a flour tortilla (the bigger the better), beans, cheese and meat. Salsas are added afterwards. Optional are rice, avocado, pico de gallo and more, in the Tex Mex style. One of the best versions of a burrito that you can find in Mexico City is made with marlin (click for recipe) in the tradition of Sinaloa, simple and powerful. There’s also the roast chicken burrito with the very particular taste of a charcoal grill. This goes best combined with the Tex Mex options.
Where to eat: The best chicken burrito is at Pollo Bruto (@pollobruto).
And the burrito marlin is at @donvergasmariscos.
Meat is the main ingredient of northern Mexican gastronomy. When prepared on the grill, we’re talking asada (from carne asada). Before going on the grill, though, there’s an important step: marinating the meat. A typical marinade made by “norteños” may include lemon, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and beer, depending on the family recipe.
Remember how I’d said that flour tortillas rule the north? Well, those might make a brief appearance on the grill, too, warming up as the meat reaches its sweet spot. Then they come together: the meat, often with cheese, and tortilla. To craft the perfect bite, add guacamole and a good salsa. In Mexico City, you’ll always find a northern cook with their special touch, but this combination is easy enough to whip up at home.
Hold the Meat, Por Favor
Of course, flour tortillas don't need to be filled with cheese or meat, chicken, eggs or seafood. When we say that anything can be in a tortilla, we mean ANYTHING. So vegetables are not the exception. Cooked mushrooms will always be delicious. There’s a fascination with cactus (nopales) in México City; they are part of many traditional stews and are usually prepared with tomato, onion and coriander. That combination goes great in a flour tortilla. In the same mood of cactus, there’s the chayote, a type of squash but with a high-water content and light flavor. Cooked with garlic, it is a surprising and amazing filler for a taco. Cheese optional.
Where to eat: The chayote taco is at Café Taco Bar (@cafetacobar) where you’ll find other combinations without meat.