Tortillas, our daily ‘bread’

Yahira and her daughter, working in Francisca’s tortellería

(Click on these images below to enlarge them)

Yahira comes from a rural area in Nicaragua, and somehow had a connection to come work in Managua. She is helping my friend and neighbor, Francisca, who runs a tortillería just around the corner. Yahira and her two children are also living with Francisca and her large family.

Tortillas are found in every corner of Nicaragua, and served at almost every meal (along with rice, or rice and beans–gallo pinto). Nicaraguans are proud of their tortillas, and will claim they are better than anyone else’s! (much like Hondurans, or Costa Ricans, or Salvadorans claim…). Tortillas are generally eaten with: cheese, cream, beans, gallo pinto (fried rice and beans), avocado, leche agria (soured milk), and pork or beef. Or, they just accompany the main dish. Early morning and in the afternoon, vendors walk through the neighborhoods calling out: “Tortiiiiiiiiiilllllaas! They offer their goods, just in case people haven’t bought them already from a nearby tortillería.

Made from corn, finely ground and mixed with water, women take a handful of the dough and pat it flat into a thin round. These are then placed on a hot, flat stove–often outside in a wood-fired metal stove. It’s hard work pounding and shaping tortillas all day long, but for many it is their way to support their family. Francisca has made tortillas for years, and recently had to have surgery to remove a large ball of tension that had formed in her shoulder-area. But, she has the tor

I often stop by to buy a couple of tortillas either at lunch or for dinner, to eat with my beans, eggs, avocado, or whatever else I have on hand. I pause to visit with Yahira and her two  children. Some evenings when I walk down her street, I sit down a minute and chat with Francisca and other neighbors that line up to order, each carrying a plate or container for their stack of tortillas. We talk about our work, our families, excitements, and pains. As evening darkens and the fire is put out, the smell of tortillas lingers in air.


P.S. An ode to tortillas….found in my internet search “poems about tortillas” 🙂

Making Tortillas by Alicia Gaspar de Alba

for Liliana, “la Argentina”
My body remembers
what it means to love slowly,
what it means to start
from scratch;
to soak the maiz,
scatter bonedust in the limewater,
and let the seeds soften

Sunrise is the best time
for grinding masa,
cornmeal rolling out
on the metate like a flannel sheet.
Smell of wet corn, lard, fresh
morning love and the light
sound of clapping.

Pressed between the palms,
thin yellow moons –
still moist, heavy still
from last night’s soaking
slowly start finding their shape

My body remembers
the feel of the griddle,
beads of grease sizzling
under the skin, a cry gathering
like an air bubble in the belly
of the unleavened cake. smell
of baked tortillas all over the house,
all over the hands still
hot from clapping, cooking.
Tortilleras, we are called,
grinders of maiz, makers, bakers,
slow lovers of women.
The secret is starting from scratch.

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