22 November 2013

Fufu Tortillas

When we first moved to Kinshasa, I braced myself for deprivation.  I imagined bravely using my adventurous spirit as inspiration though periods of deep sadness over missed chocolate chips, fancy tea, and exotic spices.

Truth be told, while rolled oats might still be a little hard to find (due to a great love of quick porridge around here), I rarely spend time pining over food products anymore.  We can find anything we want - or at least a pretty good substitute - these days in Kinshasa.  Plus, the cheese selection is like something out of artisanal Brooklyn...or Paris.

What I do miss is tortillas.  There just isn't a taco truck nearby.  Last year, we rejoiced when City Market began randomly stocking Maseca.

We spent months making clunky, but delicious, tortillas using the bottom of a frying pan as a press.  In theory, I learned to make hand patted tortillas while living in Guatemala and Honduras ("Now! You are ready to be married!" Mamita said when I had my first success), but I cannot revive that talent no matter how hard I try.  See, it's super hard:

So, we allotted two of our precious luggage pounds to  a tortilla press purchased from this old standby in Harrisonburg, Virginia - where there is no shortage of tortillas.  

At our house, Elias makes the scrambled eggs and Loulou handles the tortilla press...or at least the dough.

It goes like this:


We use the recipe on the side of the bag for 16 tortillas:

2 cups Maseca
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 Tbsp salt

Roll in to 16 little balls:

Place plastic wrap or wax paper on the press (top and bottom) for less-sticky results: 

 And, the best part (Pressing the tortillas, I feel guilty:  What would Mamita think if she saw me using a press instead of my hands? The horror!):

We still struggle with thickness.  Sometimes the tortillas are still too thick, even with the press.  How do we fix this?

A temperamental part of the process is the heat.  We use an un-greased, super hot, cast iron skillet (also an important use of baggage space).  However, we struggle with our electric oven and often end up with one side that's perfect and another that's cracked and dry (see below).

For a long time, we were totally ignorant and skipped this essential part of the tortilla making process.  We couldn't figure out why our tortillas were crispy vs. soft.  We finally got smart and realized that the whole wrapping-your-hot-tortillas-in-a-towel-as-if-they-are-tiny-babies is not just a nice way to display your work, but instead, the most crucial step to making sure you have scoopable, foldable tools vs. useless chips.

I am certainly no expert and would welcome any tips or tricks from those of you who actually know how to properly wield a tortilla press.  But, even these tortillas taste so good when eaten with bean soup while watching a Congolese sunset.  

When I make them, Mama Nounou wants to learn too. She wonders if something similar could be done with manioc.  I imagine Mamita showing Mama Nounou how to pat out fufu, round and flat.  It's hysterical. 

It's odd to transplant a standby from one host culture into another, but I guess that's what happens when you become a guest around the world.  You borrow a little tortilla here and a little fufu there, smashing everything together until it becomes something new and weird.  

Sometimes I wonder if this way of living is like the careless tourist who's main goal is to fill passport pages and purchase knick-knacks to later display in a strangely meaningless collection that nobody else cares about.  Or like the sad, lost soul who is constantly and fruitlessly trying to find "the answer" in a far-off place.  I really worry about that sometimes.  While I could list off a million reasons why moving to Africa was one of the best personal and parenting decisions I've ever made, sometimes I question life as an expat a little bit.  It's so easy to be comfortable.  

I'm hopeful that with a little effort, instead of filling passport pages, I will end up filling my brain with languages and skills.  That empathy, not knick-knacks, is what my children will collect during this experience.  That "the answer" is that we should all keep searching.   

All that philosophizing from a how-to post about tortillas...wowzers.  Here's to hoping that this smashing together of cultures turns my children into something more elegant than a fufu tortilla.  


  1. If you rotate the tortilla 180 and press a second time they tend to be thinner and more uniform.

  2. Now I want a press.

    (Love the thoughtful meanderings...)


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