Saturday, March 20, 2010

When in Japan, Learn to Make Tortillas

My friends, the time has come. The time has come to stop living a life without tortillas. I don’t even know how I made it this far. You see, back at home, the humble tortilla was a part of my daily life. Nearly every night I dragged one across the flame of my gas range until it warmed and softened, blistered and charred. I’d tear off strips and christen each with a few drips of Tapatio or Sriracha. Sometimes I drizzled the whole thing with truffle oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder. It's a reliable comfort food on it's own, and even better when wrapped around any number of tasty bits and pieces. I know I said all those nice things about rice, but the truth is you can't wrap that shit around anything!

I was golden for about three weeks after Cathy personally delivered a jumbo pack of flour tortillas, along with two cans of beans (refried and black), to my apartment door in Kanazawa. I rationed as best I could, while still dutifully sharing the bounty with my equally needy BFIJ two doors down. We feasted on pork fajitas, chicken shitake burritos and spinach and cheese quesadillas. We sliced avocados, sautéed onions and peppers and topped every chile and cumin scented creation with a dollop of plain yogurt. And then they were gone.

Then one day I realized: I can make tortillas! The ingredient list is short and basic and they don’t require an oven. Truly authentic tortillas call for lard, but I found plenty of recipes online that substitute easy-to-find vegetable oil.

Despite the lack of lard, I set out to make the tortillas as authentically Mexican as possible. I balanced a cutting board over the kitchen sink to create a countertop, rolled out the dough with a tall-can of Kirin and cooked them in a nonstick frying pan. With every roll of the can, Mexican grandmothers everywhere felt a sharp, stabbing pain in their hearts. They clutched their chests as the dough met the Teflon. Their daughters frowned, diagnosed them with heart burn and sent them off to bed with a handful of Tums. Lo siento, abuelitas.

It took a bit of fiddling with the heat and the thickness of the dough, but by the end I had a short stack of chewy tortillas, bubbled up in places and properly spotted with char marks. Perhaps they weren’t the best tortillas in the world, but they certainly seemed to be the next morning when I wrapped one around a heap of scrambled eggs and avocado. Not bad for a ghetto rigged operation conducted by a Jewish girl in Japan at midnight on a Thursday night.


  1. Ha! I love the idea of you rolling out tortillas with a Japanese Tall Boy! And I enjoy the late night wrap as well, except I am too lazy to char it up. Long live the tortilla!

  2. OK. You are surviving . . . but this is a sign that a year is a reallllllly long time in a non tortilla nation.