Photos and captions by Barry Rodriguez
One of the most common staples of the Guatemalan diet is the corn tortilla. These delicious flatbreads accompanied almost every single meal I had in the country. I loved eating them, so I was thrilled when a local mom, Enma Mazariegos, agreed to walk me through the process from start to finish. Here’s how it works!
Guatemalan tortillas begin on the cob. Ripe corn is picked and the kernels are removed by hand.
Unlike the soft corn eaten in the US, these kernels are very firm. Apparently soft kernels make for lousy dough.
On its own, corn cannot be used to make dough. Microscopic cell walls need to be broken down so the dough will be sticky enough to form tortillas. To do this, tortilla makers boil the kernels in a mixture of water and lime (the mineral, not the fruit) and let them soak overnight.
The next day, the kernels are milled at a shop that does only one thing: grind corn. This used to be done by hand (a 3-6 hour process), but modern technology has saved a lot of time.
After being ground, the cornmeal is just about ready to be cooked.
Although not everyone does this, Enma insists on further smoothing the dough on a metate (grindstone). The finished product is silky smooth.
The tortillas are cooked on a wide steel dish above a wood-burning fire. Here, Enma is sprinkling the surface with a bit more lime.
Traditional Guatemalan corn tortillas are not made with a tortilla press. Every single one is patted and turned by hand. The patting sounds made by this process can be heard outside of tortillarias (tortilla shops) all over town.
Each tortilla is cooked on both sides until golden brown. The imperfections of hand-pressing them give each a unique character and shape.
When the tortillas are done cooking, they are wrapped in a wool blanket, which keeps them moist and warm. Delicious.