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NYTimes 'Dining': The Taco Issue

11 posts in this topic

Most of the tortillas in New York are not made with nixtamal. They are using masa harina, which is ok but a very distant second. My rant, as always is, NY is obsessed with Mexican food but until they really understand corn, chiles and beans, it's from a very limited perspective.

(Apparently there is one tortilla factory in Queens that use nixtamal and the last word was that the quality was uneven.)

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"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Most of the tortillas in New York are not made with nixtamal. They are using masa harina, which is ok but a very distant second. My rant, as always is, NY is obsessed with Mexican food but until they really understand corn, chiles and beans, it's from a very limited perspective.

(Apparently there is one tortilla factory in Queens that use nixtamal and the last word was that the quality was uneven.)

I've made tacos with both. Fresh from a comal using masa harina Is *way* better than store bought. Using nixtamal on the other hand results in something very much like nirvana.


Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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Steve, really? I haven't been to Tortilleria Nixtamal but I've heard great things from people I respect.

According to one of the commenters on the NYT piece, Los Tacos #1 in Chelsea Market nixtamalize the corn themselves for their tortillas.

I've had fabulous tacos and tortas at Real Azteca in the Hunters Point section of the Bronx. Sure, Manhattan is full of Margaritaville style fratboy joints, and many of the taco trucks in Brooklyn and the outer boroughs use masa harina... but the same is often the case in Mexico, and I'd venture to guess, at many places in California. Perhaps more reprehensibly there are "upscale" Mexican restaurants in the city charging huge amounts for overly elaborate preparations that owe little to the rich Mesoamerican cooking traditions and ingredients, let alone the actual regional cuisines of Mexico. But you can find the same in D.F. sadly enough.

As you know, I'm a huge Rancho Gordo fan, but this feels a little bit like stone-throwing without much recent experience on the ground. I know a lot of New Yorkers who have travelled extensively in Mexico, brought back indigenous ingredients of all kinds, from corn to beans - and stone-grind masa themselves with cal - and I think you know some of those people too!

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I've heard from chefs that Tortilleria Nixtamal is uneven. Maybe they've worked out the kinks and that would be great but ONE tortilla factory making nixtamal in all of NY and not even in Manhattan is pretty weak.

I think it's great that Los Tacos makes their own. I believe Roberto Santibañez does the same for his Fonda restaurants. I'd start with those places that do make nixtamal, beans from scratch and use good chiles.

I don't have a problem with upscale except, and I don't mean this to throw stones, but in NY cocktails seem to be more important than the food. It's rare to come across a margarita in Mexico, Beer and shots, aguas frecas and upscale, the rage is wine pairings, especially if the wine is from Baja.


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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A reply from LA magazine: Hold the Salsa, NY Times!

(This) isn't the first time a New York writer has sought validation in the taco department. Before Mishan’s piece, the last attempt came from First We Feast, who dreamt the notion that there was a great debate between New York and L.A. over Mexican food. We let that one slide by because, frankly, there’s nothing to debate.

New York City, your inferiority complex is wrapped in a flimsy, dry tortilla made from Maseca, and covered in ketchupy salsa. But it’s cute that you keep trying over there.

Never having tried tacos in either New York or LA, I can't say who's right. But it's an interesting, if biased, read.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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I think the NY/LA taco flap is akin to the cheesesteak from Philadelphia vs anywhere else argument.

You might well find a proper steak sandwich in Chicago, but the odds are far lower than on any corner in Philly. Likewise LA tacos vs NY tacos.

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I would love a bit of clarification about nixtamalization, so Steve, please chime in as one of your comments confused me. Does nixtamal the name for alkaline treated corn that has not been ground? My understanding is that nixtamalized corn is whole corn that has been treated with alkali such as lime, then cooked or soaked and washed. Then it gets ground and becomes fresh masa. At that point it can be used to make tamales and corn tortillas, or it can be dried, which is the product we buy as masa harina or instant masa such as mass produced by operations like Maseca. So if the tortillas in NY are made with Maseca or instant masa flour they are still nixtamalized. They just won't be as good as freshly ground nixtamalized corn (duh), but they still have some of the benefits. Is this not the case?

We've been making home made tortillas, and although I can go out of my way to buy fresh masa here in Oakland, the fresh stuff doesn't keep, so if you want spur of the moment decent tacos, making them from Maseca is def better than buying packaged corn tortillas. Now, let's say I wanted to go half the extra mile. Could I take Rancho Gordo hominy (yummy--made posole with it many times) and grind it to get a better product than Maseca? Would I treat it like Maseca and just add water to make tortillas?

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very nice feed back. I just with there were a Taco Issue in BOS. there probably is, as food trucks are a big deal here as elsewhere.

they just need to motor out my way !

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I would love a bit of clarification about nixtamalization, so Steve, please chime in as one of your comments confused me. Does nixtamal the name for alkaline treated corn that has not been ground? My understanding is that nixtamalized corn is whole corn that has been treated with alkali such as lime, then cooked or soaked and washed. Then it gets ground and becomes fresh masa. At that point it can be used to make tamales and corn tortillas, or it can be dried, which is the product we buy as masa harina or instant masa such as mass produced by operations like Maseca. So if the tortillas in NY are made with Maseca or instant masa flour they are still nixtamalized. They just won't be as good as freshly ground nixtamalized corn (duh), but they still have some of the benefits. Is this not the case?

We've been making home made tortillas, and although I can go out of my way to buy fresh masa here in Oakland, the fresh stuff doesn't keep, so if you want spur of the moment decent tacos, making them from Maseca is def better than buying packaged corn tortillas. Now, let's say I wanted to go half the extra mile. Could I take Rancho Gordo hominy (yummy--made posole with it many times) and grind it to get a better product than Maseca? Would I treat it like Maseca and just add water to make tortillas?

You've got it right. Fresh masa from nixtamal should probably last about three days in the fridge and one day left out, as it mostly is in Mexico. But the tortillas you make from it can last up to two weeks or so. The same is true for commercial tortillas made from nixtamal- they can last. If it's white corn and the tortillas are an odd shade of yellow, like many WHole Food and Trader Joe tortillas I see, it means they didn't rinse the cal off very well so they have a longer shelf life but more of a chemical taste.

But if you're buying commercial tortillas, make sure they have corn, cal (or lime) and water and nothing else. if they have more, I would pass. But I would place commercial tortillas made from nixtamal above homemade ones made with Maseca (masa harina). I would make homemade tortillas with fresh masa. Living in the bay area or anyplace with access to good tortillas, I wouldn't bother making my own Maseca tortillas unless I was out and it was too late to find more. That's just my thinking.

But if you buy masa, you can also make atoles, champarrado, tamales and more. Mole Amarillo from Oaxaca is often thickened with a little bit of masa added to water to liquefy it and then added to the mole and it is the most wonderful flavor imaginable and the natural corn starch thickens the sauce.

Here's a video I made of a very talented woman in Oaxaca making various treats from fresh masa. The leaf she is using is Oja Santa/Hierba Santa and easy to grow:

I think it's worth the pain to hunt down fresh masa. Obvously.

re the dried hominy, I don't know about uncooked, but if you could get the grind just right, the cooked, wet hominy could be masa, but I think we tried it here once and it didn't work so well.

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Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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