seeing these beautiful photos taken by Christina Holmes in Tulum, I am not sure if tortilla making, hand-made tortillas is an art or a food, or both. Few Tulum restaurants are making handmade tortillas any longer, machines and tortilla shops now supply homes, restaurants and businesses as the demand for this staple Mexican food has forced the industrialization of tortilla making. There are families that still make tortillas by hand, and when you place a machine-made tortilla beside a handmade tortilla, the difference is night and day. It is like eating cookies out of a box verses handmade cookies we made at home. The flavor, the texture, the love is all different and in our world the handmade tortilla is the one to eat!
Tulum Tortilla lady – making tortillas as an art form
We recently visited the tortilla lady, a name we have attached to this wonderful Mayan elder as she is….the tortilla lady. This is her work all day long, making tortillas by hand, on a wood fire with the basic tools needed for tortillas, a tortilla press and grill. She grinds her corn by hand, she does not use store-bought corn flour, she hand kneads the dough and gets to making her art, tortillas for any one who wishes to buy.
We don’t expect anyone to hand grind their own corn, so look for the corn flour in your local international or Mexican grocery store. It is called Masa and there is one particular company that exports the masa needed for corn tortillas, Maseca. We are surprised every time we venture up north how available Mexican products are in main stream grocery stores in the US and Canada. 10 years ago, Mexican products were almost impossible to find, now in the US, Mexican products from Mexican brands (not US brands) are mainstream staple products in grocery and convenience stories. Viva Mexico!
Tortilla Recipe for handmade tortillas – A Tulum treat in your home
- 1 3/4 cups masa harina
- 1 1/8 cups water
- pinch of salt
- In a medium bowl, mix together masa harina (corn flour for tortillas), salt and warm water until thoroughly combined. Turn dough onto a clean surface and knead until it feels smooth and soft. If dough is too sticky, add more masa harina; if it begins to dry out, sprinkle with water. Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand for 30 minutes. (this step is important for great tortillas)
- Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle to medium-high.
- Divide dough into equal-size balls. Using a tortilla press, a rolling pin, or your hands, press each ball of dough flat between two sheets of plastic wrap, parchment paper or wax paper. The tortillas should be thin, using a flour tortillas as your basis for a good thickness.
- Immediately place tortilla in preheated pan and allow to cook for approximately 30 seconds, or until browned and slightly puffy. Turn tortilla over to brown on second side for approximately 30 seconds more, then transfer to a plate. Repeat process with each ball of dough. Keep tortillas covered with a towel to stay warm and moist until ready to serve. Tortillas should be served immediately for best results.
For more Tulum information and some unique local suggestions download our free Real Tulum Travel guide for an in-depth view of Tulum for all visitors.
Photo Credit Christina Holmes 2012