|Torta al Pastor|
Photograph by Leticia Alaniz © 2011 All Rights Reserved
In Mexican gastronomy, a torta is a kind of grilled sandwich. It is usually prepared with a telera roll, although depending on the region of the country, it is also prepared with other types of bread such as a bolillo, birote, micha, pambazo, etc. The bread is split in half and filled with a kaleidescope of fillings that are limitless, then further grilled to a crunchy perfectness.
It is a culinary "antojito", prepared street side on gourmet food carts or in establishments called "torterias". Although for a Mexican, the torta is considered a street snack, don't confuse this with fast food. It is far from that. Epicureans consider it a gourmet feast as the ingredients are all fresh, grilled, and include all the exotic ingredients you can imagine.
Like all mexican food, the torta has a unique history well described by "Tortologo" Roberto Ayala in his book: "El Gran Libro de las Tortas". According to his findings, there is an account that dates back to the sixteenth century:
|Leonardo Da Vinci|
From then on people began placing ingredients between two pieces of bread to conceal what was inside, especially if the ingredients were not very impressive. Eventually, the torta or sandwich has been prepared in some variation in many parts of the world.
Leonardo Da Vinci may have had the ingenious idea of putting a piece of meat between two buns, but who reinvented the torta and turned it into a popular and exotic dish were the Mexicans. The torta is so important for Mexicans that an annual festival is organized in the esplanade of the delegation of Venustiano Carranza in Mexico City.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in search of riches, they brought with them wheat, a Spanish staple and religious necessity, the only grain recognized by the Catholic church as being suitable for the Euacharist wafer. One important way of colonizing and christianizing the natives, was to replace the native grains such as amaranth with wheat.
Bread production began in Mexico with the new grain, but it wasn't until the arrival of the french colonizers in Puebla in the 1800's, that Mexican bakers soon developed a baking tradition unique in its own way, making it one of the most inventive in the world.
From the Mexican and French marriage in Puebla, the telera was born. It is highly prized for its flavor and crusty golden outer shell with which the tortas are made. Even though Puebla may take the credit for introducing the torta, it is Mexico City whom is the superstar for being the most inventive in making the most impressive tortas.
Not only are the ingredients with which the tortas are filled raised to a higher level of cuisine, but their names are also the most ingenious reflecting the culture of Mexico and their love of humor.
There are an endless array of tortas, but some are more famous than others. The creativity of the Mexican does not have borders but it does contain a lot of humor:
"La Chancla" (flip flop), consists of shredded chicken cooked in "guajillo" chiles and spices. The telera roll is stuffed with the chicken filling and avocado slices. Then it is topped with guajillo salsa.
"La Ahogada" which translates to the "drowned one", was invented in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The torta is called that because it is submerged in a "chile de arbol" salsa. A hard and crunchy birote roll, characteristic of the region, is filled with fried pork, then submerged in the spicy red liquid. The consistency of the bread permits the torta to be submerged without crumbling or dissolving.
"La Guajolota" the name given to a torta that consists of a telera roll stuffed with a tamal. (literally it translates to a large turkey hen).
"El Chavo" (the kid), a torta that is a favorite among children, but also made famous by the Mexican television farcical sitcom. It consists of a telera or bolillo roll, ham, and avocado slices.
"La Hawaiiana", called that because it is filled with grilled pineapple and ham, then topped with asadero cheese.
"Lambada", aptly named after the famous brazilian dance craze. It consists of grilled meat, chorizo, and asadero cheese.
"La Cubana", no translation needed, just about every ingredient you can name stuffed into the bread.
Then there are the tortas named after certain places even though, they are all Mexican: "Michoacana, Española, Rusa, Alemana, Suiza, La China, etc"
But it does not stop there, in the "torterias", you will find yourself amused at all the humorous names: "La Gringa (the name given to a foreigner of English descent), Mariachi, La Tejana, La Negra, La Mora, La India, La Tortuga, Francis, La Torta Loca, La Macha, la Pobre, Cantinflas, Pachuqueña, La Arabe, La Milanesa, Al Pastor, La Capulina, La Barbi, etc..."
All tortas are usually served with lettuce and tomato, queso fresco, avocados, onions, fiery hot salsas, pickled jalapeños, and even crema. But when you visit a torteria, no dictionary is needed, just bring a huge appetite.