We all have our simple pleasure moments with our favorite food. Mine is fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal (a flat cast iron skillet) with creamy avocado, tomato, queso fresco, and a splash of lime juice. The taste of corn and these ingredients brings me back home. I took it for granted once before on my first short-term stay abroad. While I was living in Peru, people often asked me what food I missed most from home. I knew the answer immediately: without a doubt, tortillas. And it was then that I realized I couldn’t live without them. They’re my bread of life.
Now I’m back in Austin and won’t forget my passion for the tortilla. I’m living here helping my brother start a new Peruvian restaurant called Yuyo. My brother already has five Mexican restaurants: El Chile Café, El Chilito, El Alma, Alcomar, and El Sapo. El Chile Café is the landmark restaurant that started my brother’s restaurant mania. Last week at El Chile Café, we did a taste testing for hand-made flour tortillas. We offered them for a short run of six months when the restaurant started. But as soon as it got booming, we started selling out and gave in to the convenience of buying premade tortillas. Now, thirteen years later, we’ve come back to our sanity.
The taste of tortillas brings my brother and I back home to our roots. My grandparents started their own tortilla factory in San Antonio in the 1950s. By the time my brother and I were born, the tortillas were made on a conveyer belt and sold in many places throughout the city. But when they started, my mother recalls, things were mixed in the mixer and cooked on the comal. The smells of flour, corn and lime permeated the air. My grandfather had a sensitive palate and pinpointed the exact flavors that he wanted with great care.
To us, bringing handmade tortillas back is a preservation act, rekindling our connection to the past. It brings us back to the way it was when the time was taken to get things just right. The way it was helps us remember what we care about most. The authenticity of our food ways is in the act of making. Honoring ingredients and keeping things simple at the core of our restaurant concept is essential.
If you would like to do your own tortilla taste testing, I highly recommend taking a trip to San Antonio to try Taco Haven and the Original Blanco Café for their infamous handmade tortillas. Then come to Austin and visit El Chile Café and we’ll swap stories.