My ten weeks in Mexico have passed by with me sampling many culinary highlights – in high end places, at people’s homes, from markets and from street vendors. Many have been the result of new tastes and textures not common to your average western-style Mexican restaurant; though the staples that this vibrant country is renowned for the world over – tacos, guacamole, churros, burritos – were of no disappointment either.
Of all these experiences there was one that I believe deserves a special mention. A national street food that would rightly rival the Banh Mi of Vietnam. It is not sophisticated or gourmet. Yet I’m surprised that it hasn’t yet notably arrived upon the non-Mexican consciousness.
And so I present to you, an unexpected star…
The Torta. A sandwich not of bread slices but of bread rolls. Small ones, big ones, super sized ones. Cold or toasted. Soft or crusty. Modestly or monumentally filled.
The reason I talk of this now, is because today I encountered the magnitude of what a torta can be. Yes, tortas of greater length than this one do exist, but based on fillings alone this beauty would hold its own against any others that I have spied.
On the corner of Tamaulipas and Alfonso Reyes streets, in Mexico City’s colonia Condesa, are two women and a young girl serving up chilaquiles stuffed tortas (30 pesos) from morning until about 1pm. Though judging by the stand’s constant queue, there’s a chance that they may sell out before then.
The construction of this torta is as follows:
- Crusty baguette-style roll, bottom half scooped out to create adequate space for the filling
- Re-fried black beans
- Thinly pounded chicken breast, breadcrumbed & fried (other meat options available)
- A scoop of salsa verde or salsa rojo chilaquiles (sauce soaked tortilla crisps)
- A generous lashing of sour cream
- A sprinkle of panela cheese
- Pickled jalapeño chillies (optional)
- Lightly pickled red onion slices (optional)
The result is a giant, sloppy beast of a sandwich, which is as joyously fun to attempt to eat with even a smidgen of grace as it is to watch in anticipation as it is put together. Biting down on the crusty exterior I immediately understand why some of the bread had to be lost in the making of this sandwich, for the roll is working as vessel here, stoically attempting to keep its crew onboard beneath every mouthful. Filling tries to escape. Chicken vies for attention. And onion slivers slide out. But it’s worth the effort.
I have eaten other tortas. And I have enjoyed other tortas. But this one exceeded expectations. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.
And the best part? The fact that this mess-making, belly-busting deliciousness is served up to you by a woman balancing on a pair of glamorous, ankle-breaking heels.
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