Here’s why you see more masa on restaurant menus

Molinito’s announcement changed the life of Bolita owner Emmanuel Galvan. He grew up helping his mother bake tortillas, dough balls (called “bolitas”) made from masa harina, which his mother pressed into tortillas, but he fell in love with masa after s’ passed out on a tlacoyo in Mexico City five years ago.

Grindstones like this are essential for producing masa.

Courtesy of Masienda / Photo by Noah Forbes

“I was at a little stall eating a blue corn tlacoyo on a crate of corn,” he says, “and it was the most intense masa experience I have ever had. I had no idea how much of an impact this would have – the flippancy of this truly pristine ingredient – and [the experience of eating that masa] was shared with tourists and people who came to the stand for who knows how long. Not a chef, he had studied social anthropology at the New School in New York. His only previous experiences with freshly ground masa from nixtamalized corn had been in gourmet restaurants. But this blue corn tlacoyo moment from Mexico City “democratized masa” for Galvan, who bought a household gadget called Nixtamatic in Mexico and started making masa five pounds at a time.

“When Masienda announced that they were releasing the Molinito, I was like, I have to get it. I can sell to friends and make tortillas and give them away.

Today, Galvan sells its masa, tortillas and tlacoyos at CUESA mission community market in San Francisco, as well as on a pre-order basis on the Alice Collective in Oakland.

“My obsession with masa goes beyond masa and the different varieties of corn,” says Galvan. “It’s a recovery of my cultural identity or its absence. I relearn my culture a little through masa, I discover all these people who have made nixtamal for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is three ingredients: water and corn and cal [calcium hydroxide]. It’s such a beautiful process to see the kernel go from a dry corn to this sweet, mushy, wonderful thing.

Gaviria says Masienda has sold “several hundred” Molinitos in the 20 months they’ve been offered, and he hopes many more masa-focused businesses are on the way.

Telling the story of masa is extremely important to chef Emmanuel Chavez and his partner Megan Maul, who launched Tatemó in Houston in 2019. Initially, they designed Tatemó as a gourmet restaurant and were about to sign a lease at the center. -ville when the pandemic hit. They pivoted and Chavez began to focus on making the nixtamal, grinding it – initially using a comically modest hand grinder – and making pop-up dinners. A customer offered a package of Tatemó tortillas to the manager of the seller of Urban harvest farmers market, which led to an invitation to sell their tortillas, masa, masa pancakes, chilaquiles and quesadillas there.

About James Almanza

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