Gabacho Discs of Glory: Battle Grocery Store Flour Tortillas
Last week, your intrepid Forkers received a pitch from a company called Circle Foods selling as Tortillaland and advertising the availability of fresh, uncooked tortillas in the local grocery store. The company's website is a depressing attempt to evoke vaguely Mexican imagery while selling such authentic Mexican products as grilled-chicken miniature burritos "bursting with real Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses."
"Ha ha ha," I said. "This has to be a joke. Why would you bother when you can buy masa para tortillas in any Mexican market in the county?" It's a valid question, but the target audience is crystal-clear: people who don't have tortilla presses at home or who live in those benighted places where fresh tortilla dough isn't available. Cranking out tortillas without a press is one of the most irritating, joyless experiences it's possible to have in a kitchen (sorry, abuelitas, it's true).
Still, it was an intriguing idea, so I decided to buy a pack of these Tortillaland flour tortillas to see if they were any good, fully expecting them to not be.
It wouldn't be fair to compare these newcomers to homemade tortillas, I thought, even if I felt like making flour tortillas from scratch. The tortilla to beat would be the pedestrian workhorse of the gabacho grocery store, Mission. We'd eat them as quesadillas, following Gustavo's instructions for a real Mexican quesadilla and stuffing them with tangy quesillo.
Regardless of the outcome of this battle, Tortillaland is going to have an uphill battle; its product is fresh and must be kept cold, which means it isn't going to be found near its competition on the endcap of an aisle. When I found the Tortillaland tortillas at my local Vons, they were with the Lunchables and the Vlasic cold-pack pickles on the west end of the store, while the tortillas were on the opposite side, on the end-cap of the Dreaded Feminine-Products Aisle.
The ingredients list of Tortillaland tortillas contains no strange, unpronounceable ingredients. It's mercifully short: flour, water, oil, salt and sugar. Mission tortillas contain the same basic ingredients (though there is more sugar than salt), along with a list of dough conditioners and preservatives.
The Tortillaland cooking directions, incidentally, are on the low side. You're meant to heat a non-stick pan over medium heat (and it does, in fact, need to be non-stick; I will be putting some elbow grease into a non-nonstick skillet later), then cook the tortilla for 30 seconds per side. It took closer to 60 seconds for the tortilla to bubble up and get to a state I would consider cooked.
When it came down to taste and texture, there simply was no comparison. The Mission tortilla was unappealingly flaky and hard, despite having been bought just a couple of hours ago; the Tortillaland tortilla was soft and more flavorful. The cheese melted more readily in the Tortillaland tortilla, though it took some time to get the little crunchy bits and it was slightly gummy.
The problem is that both of these products are ridiculously expensive. Ten "soft taco"-size Mission tortillas cost a whopping $3.89. You get 12 Tortillaland flour tortillas for less money--$3.49--but that's still a ridiculous toll when you consider you can buy the same weight of bread for a dollar cheaper, and you can buy 100 corn tortillas for $3.79 at any González Northgate market.
Still, sometimes life calls for grilled steak with guacamole, spicy red salsa, a little shredded lettuce and a flour tortilla, and if that's the case, Tortillaland is the way to go.
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