It's summer, finally, and our thoughts have turned to taquizas, or taco parties. We've got the grill. Charcoal. The carne to marinade. Sanchez. As for the tortillas, well, that's where the debate begins: flour or corn? Flour tortillas are a great compliment for grilled meats because of their tendency to blister when cooked, increasing the charry flavor of the taco. However there are those who won't budge from corn tortillas, not least because they add a contrasting layer of flavor. So we went searching for tortillas that exemplified their type and even found one that successfully combined both.
First lets clear up the impression that flour tortillas aren't authentic. Food historian Donna Gabaccia describes in her book, We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and The Making of Americans, that corn was harder to cultivate in areas of Northern Mexico, which included what is now the U.S. Southwest. In turn, wheat grew abundantly and was substituted for corn in many preparations including tortillas. Flour tortillas are not only as authentic as corn, they're native to border states.
It's for this reason that the place known for some of the best corn tortillas in L.A., also makes fine flour tortillas. La Azteca Tortilleria's flour tortillas are rolled out by hand and then griddled until puffy and just cooked through. Although thicker than the standard supermarket flour tortilla, these are not doughy and are extremely pliable.
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Good fresh white or yellow corn tortillas can now be found at tortillerias and Mexican markets throughout L.A. However, for hot-out-of-the-oven blue corn tortillas, you are going to have to look a little harder. Specifically, behind a wall on the second floor of El Mercado de Los Angeles. Its easy to completely walk past Tortilleria del Bajia until you smell freshly ground corn and spot a stack of dark-hued tortillas still steaming inside plastic bags on a lone glass case. In addition to adding an interesting color contrast to your taco, blue corn tortillas have a deeper corn flavor. Further, they have been documented as being more nutritious than other forms of corn in several ways, including being lower in the glycemic index.
Still can't make up your mind? Earlier this year we noticed a new type of tortilla at the supermarket buried behind the packs of 80 counts, La Tortilla Factory Hand Made Style Tortillas made with a blend of corn and wheat. We were familiar with the Sonoma based La Tortilla Factory because of the love they get for their line of low cal/low carb tortillas on a different type of guilty pleasure food website. So we were skeptical on how this line would perform because they were denser and looked almost gummy in their uncooked state. However, as they heated up they fluffed up, got wonderful little scorch marks and yet emanated the scent and taste of toasted corn, which in turn complimented heartier cuts of grilled meats. In the end, we were left with what we felt was a draw in the tortilla debate. Just don't get us started on lump versus briquettes.
La Azteca Tortilleria: 4538 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue Los Angeles, (323) 262-5977, Tortilleria del Bajio: 3425 East First Street, Los Angeles, (213) 261-2991, La Tortilla Factory Hand Made Style Tortillas can be found at supermarkets including Pavillions and Sprouts.