What is a tlayuda?Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
Our servers have certainly heard that question a few times since we opened. Pronounced tla-u-da, with an emphasis on the “u”, tlayudas are an iconic Oaxacan street snack. Sometimes referred to as “Mexican pizza” but really more of a flatbread, a tlayuda starts with a very large, thin, crispy corn tortilla that is baked on a comal or wood grill. The tortilla is covered with refried or pureed beans and other toppings. The most common version in Oaxaca sports asiento (unrefined pork lard), shredded lettuce or cabbage, avocado, strips of meat (tasajo or cecina are most common), quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese) and salsa. They are generally served open-faced but at times are served folded in half as well. When I was in Oaxaca, I found the best tlayudas at La Fonda Florecita in the Mercato de Merced. They offer a traditional tlayuda cooked on a striking, wood-fired cement comal with a clever grill above the coals and below the comal.
Here are a few photos from a visit to La Fonda Florecita:
Refried black beans spread on the tortilla
followed by a generous amount of quesillo
then avocado, tomato and tasajo
then it’s placed briefly on the grill to warm it and melt the cheese a bit
finally it’s cut into pieces with scissors and plated
a little salsa completes the picture
After my first bite, I knew it was something we would feature at Comal. Little did I know how difficult it is to make the thin, crispy, plate-sized tortillas. Matt spent a fair amount of time trying to perfect it and was never happy with the results. He suspects that it’s about the type of corn used for the masa, and also the composition of the masa. Whatever the case, we’re still searching for a solution. By chance one day we were speaking with our janitor Jorge who hails from Oaxaca. We mentioned how hard it was to make the tortillas for tlayudas and he told us that his mother was skilled at making them. So until we figure out how to make them better stateside, we get a large shipment of them from Jorge’s mother on a regular basis. If tlayudas are off the menu, it probably means we are awaiting another shipment.
We’ve taken some liberties with the toppings – our most recent tlayuda features smashed garbanzo beans, roasted gypsy peppers, zucchini and quesillo, along with chipotle salsa and a sprinkling of wild arugula on top . The smashed garbanzos are cooked the way our sous chef Martin observed his grandmother cooking them as a child – a whole head of garlic, Serrano chiles, onions and cilantro are all stewed with the beans until cooked, then everything is smashed with a bean masher. Here’s a photo of our current tlayuda:
And finally, some useful links about tlayudas: