The Tortilla Ladies

At breakfast in a big market outside of Oaxaca one morning I kept hearing the women from the different kitchens, there were eight of them in a row, clap. Not the kind of clap you use for a birthday celebration. I'm talking an I-mean-business kind of a clap that riccocheted from the high cieling to the cement floor. A clap that beat out the mole machines that ran constantly 20 feet away. And after the women would clap they'd return to the stove or the sink or the cutting board and calmly continue cooking.

After this happened six or seven times and I'd craned my neck around the people near me, nearly spilled my coffee and stepped on a few toes to watch the clapping I figured it out. Or maybe one of my table mates did, but let's say I did.

The clapping was the call for a tortilla lady. Any tortilla lady that was near by. There were many. They wore aprons with rickrack trim and carried baskets of tortillas lined with flour sack towels. At the clapping woman's counter they made their transaction. A stack of fresh tortillas for the exchange of a few coins. No plastic packaging. No garbage. It was a beautiful thing.

I miss the tortilla ladies.

Don't you wish we could have tortilla ladies at our markets? Or a booth that made fresh tortillas so you could buy a stack for a few coins?


Melinda said...

Yes I do! Mmmm... I am very hungry now. I LOVE the taste of fresh tortillas...

And have you ever tried to make them? Those ladies make it look so easy, and it's not!!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

I desperately wish we had tortilla ladies at our market. I love tortillas so much, and feel guilty every time I buy a plastic wrapped package of them.

I have yet to try to make my own though, I always imagined it would be quite hard and time consuming. After reading Melinda's comment, I guess my assumptions were right.

Theresa said...

I would like to know a tortilla lady, and pita bread lady too :)

Daphne said...

No I have to disagree. Making tortillas isn't very hard. Ok so mine aren't perfectly round. I'm not willing to take the time to make them perfect. I roll them out quickly. Still they taste just as good.

audrey said...

A pita bread lady, now there's an idea. Thanks for this story. I've never been south of Baja but my husband went to Copper Canyon last year and came back really excited about fresh, simple foods. He even made horchata from scratch and it was amazing.

Christina said...

I wish I could have a tortilla lady in my house!

Those marigolds are just lovely.

kale for sale said...

melinda - I have made them and those ladies do make it look effortless. But I've never tried corn tortillas, only flour.

jennifer oh veg*n cooker - You could make them. Really. We make them with kids so they get to make the balls and roll them out. Sure they aren't perfect but who cares. They taste great and they're hot.

theresa - Yeah, a pita bread lady would be good to or how about this? A guy with a naan oven. I saw one once in Melinda's part of the world, Ballard, WA at a festival. He tossed the dough onto the side of the oven and in two minutes hot naan. Heaven.

daphne - I'm with you but I assume you're talking flour. Homemade the tortillas assume character and that's better than perfection. Thanks for speaking up!

audrey - Okay. The tortilla ladies could also have horchata but then they'd have to have a booth instead of walking around with their baskets. Really, why doesn't someone make fresh horchata at the market and we could bring our mason jars and fill up? Is your husband looking to moonlight?

christina - Wouldn't it be grand. As for the marigolds they were everywhere for the Day of the Dead. There were more marigolds than there are people in Mexico City. Maybe it's their orangeness that makes them such a happy flower or maybe the fact that you can throw them around and then stack them six feet high and they still look good.