How does a Mexican tortilla from Spain taste?

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Steps in Old Town, Calp, Spain, are painted yellow and red, in keeping with Spain's flag. Photo by Sam Williams/Unsplash

Although the tortilla is almost universally thought of in the United States as a Mexican food product made of either corn or flour, only the more cultured among us know that "tortilla" is actually Spanish in origin.

In the 1500s, when the Spaniards conquered what is now Mexico, Hernán Cortés and his bloodthirsty soldiers knew "tortilla" as an egg dish that us unwashed masses would call an omelet, which is still made today. When they encountered what the Aztecs called tlaxcalli, the Spaniards decided to rename them "tortillas" and define them in Spain as little more than "bread."

Mexico got the last laugh.

While the Spanish tortilla remains primarily an Iberian delight, the Mexican tortilla has gone on to conquer the world, especially Europe, where it's now a multibillion-dollar industry. The Tortilla Industry Association has held a European conference since 2017 (the next one is October 24-25 in Munich — they should've timed it with Oktoberfest) and says Europeans overwhelmingly favor flour tortillas… except in Italy. Polenta for the win!

My friends who travel to Europe don't exactly seek out Mexican food when they're out there, so I've never been able to get much intel about the European Mexican tortilla scene. Some of them who traveled abroad during the 1990s have horror stories of eating tortillas from a can in London, or being subjected to hard-shell tacos in Brussels where ketchup was served as salsa. So as your humble Tortilla Master, I've always wondered how tortillas produced in Europe might taste.

Then about a month ago, a vacuum-sealed package arrived: Mexican corn tortillas… from Spain? 

A package of tortillas from Barcelona-based company Tortillas El Patrón. Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Tortillas El Patrón is a Barcelona-based company that makes their corn tortillas the right way: corn, water, lime, no preservatives. Their logo of a silhouetted charro on horseback was smart, if not exactly inspired and kinda lost in a lime-green sea. They're also hip to the current tortilla lingo by boasting that their corn is "100% nixtamalizado" — that is, treated the way Mexicans have treated corn for thousands of years to turn it into masa. El Patrón is even trying blue corn tortillas, but the ones that a Chicano fan of mine who lives in Norway sent me were yellow.

Were they any good?

I worried when my fan suggested I first soak the El Patrón tortilla in water so it could rehydrate a bit. What am I, an astronaut?

The color seemed a little pallid to me but I nevertheless threw the El Patrón tortilla on the comal. It was thicker than most corn tortillas so it took a bit more time to cook. Alas, it never really became pliable so maybe I should've soaked it a tad in water. But if you need water to make your tortilla better, you're already in trouble. 

The taste wasn't bad. The corn flavor was there but it dissipated quickly and didn't linger. The texture was a bit mealy, in a good way. I'm not sure where El Patrón sources its corn from, but if they got a better varietal, their tortillas would easily improve.

Whenever I get tortillas for the #TortillaTournament, I give out almost all the leftovers to friends or customers at my wife's store, and only keep the good ones. I gave out all my leftover El Patrón. They'd be a solid #12 seed, but would probably lose in the first round. No worries, Europe. You've got about 15 years before #TortillaTournament rampages through the EU!