The Takeout collectively loves tacos, that much is clear and sacrosanct. We love tacos al pastor, carnitas tacos, potato tacos, so many variations on tacos that this risks devolving in a Forrest Gump shrimp-list parody. On the subject of tortillas, however, the staff is less united. With nuance, rhetorical skill, and fervor, we plead our cases.
When I visited Mexico City last year, no question I wanted my tacos al pastor served on corn tortillas. In fact, I do prefer the texture and earthy sweetness of corn tortillas as a taco vessel.
But if I’m eating fajitas, enchiladas, breakfast burritos, or quesadillas, it’s flour tortillas all the way. Their sweetness is more neutral, their texture more elastic. A bite into a flour tortilla is a two-way street, as the springy dough reacts with pleasant resistance. A corn tortilla simply cannot swell to contain the egg, cheese, crumbled sausage, sour cream, avocado, salsa, and scallions I’ve stuffed into my breakfast burrito. Nor can it absorb the excesses of a fajita without wilting. A quesadilla on a corn tortilla?! The mind boggles.
There’s nothing inferior about a flour tortilla. Like a painter might choose a certain color blue to render a sky, and a different color blue to render the ocean, so too can cooks select the tortilla that most effectively contributes to the overall artistic vision of a dish. If that the dish is both saucy and cheesy, flour tortillas are the only ones fit for the job. It’s not a question of superiority, but of application.
Let this not be read as a full-throated rebuttal of the flour tortilla. There are instances when such a product is necessary, as Kate aptly expressed above. My aversion to flour tortilla is the product of many years in which the only Mexican food available was sub-standard, and the flour tortilla was used in improper situations.
For example, in the not-very-diverse suburb where I grew up near Seattle, the local Mexican restaurant only offered flour tortillas (which is unfathomable today). So the “carne asada” tacos was only served alongside starchy, communion wafer-bland discs, as opposed to tortillas made from masa.
Another time, a non-Mexican restaurant offered “Baja-style fish tacos”—imagine my delight, as an avowed fish taco enthusiast!—only to realize they served only their fish tacos in the texturally incorrect vehicle of flour tortillas.
I am biased, because I have been scarred. But that doesn’t discount my opinion that flour tortillas aren’t appealing. I find them mealy, overly dry, with too much give. There’s not enough suppleness. They’re thicker, blander, and masks the flavors of the ingredients it holds. It feels like sushi made with brown rice.
Maybe I should caveat: Many non-Mexicans believe flour tortillas are the default, with corn tortillas the alternative. I’m of the mind it should be the other way around.