Welcome to ¡Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge!, the world’s premier column on all things tortilla. Each week throughout the 2022 Tortilla Tournament of Champions, judge Gustavo Arellano will take your most burning (but never burnt) tortilla questions. Grab your butter and salsa macha, because things are about to get caliente.
Q: Way back in 2003, the Los Angeles Times published my children's story, "The Smooth Side of the Tortilla" (it was serialized over five days). My story was inspired by an argument with my Mexican (and Mexican-adjacent) co-workers about whether there was a smooth side of a tortilla. We never resolved this issue (much like the kids in my fictionalized version of the argument). I can't find any scholarly monographs on the subject. What's the answer to this mystery? And if there is a smooth side, does it matter when it comes to using tortillas to make quesadillas or enchiladas?
The guy who asked this is author Daniel A. Olivas, whose latest book How to Date a Flying Mexican is a delight of fancy, style, and scope. And while didn’t say in his letter whether he thought there was a smooth side to a tortilla, maybe he didn’t because anyone who knows their tortillas would say, “DUH.” Except Mexicans wouldn’t call the side “smooth,” even though I get where people might think so.
Confused yet? Trust me: Any time I heat a tortilla, I’m confused — but I know there’s a there there.
Get a corn tortilla. You’ll notice one side is thicker — that’s the side where you’re supposed to hold — while the other one looks more delicate and where you put in ingredients. The former is known in the tortilla industry as the “stomach,” while the latter is known as the “back.” Or it’s known the “strong” side and the “weak.” Or the “back” and the “weak.” Or, as we say in Mexico, derecho (right way) and a reves (backwards).
Or, I guess “smooth” and, um, not smooth?
Why does all this matter? Because if you put your stuffings in the wrong way, the tortilla won’t bend as effectively…or so I’ve been told. But it’s true. Try it yourself!
Forgot to mention: I answered this question back in 2020, although asked differently. But again: Any time I heat a tortilla, I’m confused — but I know there’s a there there.
Q: Can someone explain to me why some BBQ places refuse to provide flour tortillas to accompany their sliced brisket?
Because they’re jerks! Brisket is a Texas staple; flour tortillas are a Tex-Mex staple. Brisket tacos on flour tortillas? A delicious combo of tallow and lard in a mouthful — and some BBQ masters, like A’s BBQ in East Los Angeles – they are even doing flour tortillas using tallow. Maybe brisket solely in sandwiches or in a plate with white bread were great 20 years ago, but this is a new era, so who on earth would someone deny flour tortillas to a brisket lover? That’s as cruel as a taco made from Guerrero tortillas.
Got a puffy question about tortillas? Ask Gustavo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy eating!