“When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.” – Alice Waters

La Internacional’s owner, Nora Cabrera, on the right, from Guatemala, with her associate Ada Fuentes, left, from El Salvador. Each proudly makes her own tortillas by hand at home, and they heartily approve of La Abuela Carmen’s line.

Corn tortillas are an ancient Mesoamerican flatbread that remain a staple in many countries today.  People of all classes, from the humblest folk to Aztec nobility, have enjoyed tortillas since Pre-Columbian times across the region – proving the dish’s enduring versatility. And now, of course, it’s hard to imagine cuisine in this country without the simple bread. They are ubiquitous in grocery stores everywhere; but if you’re looking for the real deal, keep reading!

To make tortilla dough, you soak dried corn kernels in water with calcium oxide, which softens the corn. A cook then grinds, kneads and pats the mixture into balls, which is then pressed into flat circles. In most modern homes, cooks make tortillas using a tortilla press, before toasting them in a pan.

Yet at La Abuela Carmen Products in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the process is even more traditional.  Tortillas are patiently shaped by hand into perfect rounds each day. The process of cooking them on a large metal or clay griddle, a comal, requires artful attention to the dough and careful flipping to ensure even, golden toasting. You’ll find no preservatives here – simply fresh flavor. These exquisite little numbers are the newest handmade tortillas on offer at La Internacional, in Union Square, Somerville, where you’ll find them in the fridge at the front entrance.

La Abuela Carmen’s local, handmade tortilla.

Bring these to your kitchen to add deliciousness and an impressive level of authenticity at your next meal. They beautifully accompany jocón, a tomatillo-based Guatemalan chicken stew by Amalia Damgaard-Moreno. This week, I paired them with soft, Oaxacan-style cheese for a favorite Yotam Ottolenghi recipe: vegetarian quesadillas.

Since these tortillas are thicker than the machine-pressed variety, they’ll take just few extra moments to reheat on your stove.  With their nutty aroma and tender feel, this wee bit of extra time is well worth the effort – just as any epicurean abuela knows.

–  Lucy Hahn, Somerville Arts Council Volunteer

What are you dreaming up for these tortillas? Let us know in the comments section!

Find handmade tortillas and Oaxaca-style cheese at:

La Internacional, 318 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

This Guatemalan market is also the place to go for authentic tortillas, queso fresco and crema, as well as Salvadoran products like flor de izote and loroco, and Haitian items, like rare djon djon mushrooms, yams, yucca and drinks like cornmeal-based Akasan.

Vegetarian quesadillas with Oaxacan-style cheese