How to shape homemade corn tortillas, without a press

I’m still not an expert at making corn tortillas without a press, but I was in awe of this woman at the Mole Festival in San Pedro Atocpan. Her name is Bertha Reyes Romero and she was the quesadilla-maker at one of the restaurants.

Her hands worked so fast that I asked if I could take a video, and she said yes.

12 Responses to “How to shape homemade corn tortillas, without a press”
  1. Nancy

    I’ve never seen this method of hitting the masa with the heel of the hand. In Yucatan I have seen them put the masa on a plastic sheet like this, but sort of spin it around while pressing with the fingertips of both hands. I hope to get to visit more areas of Mexico some day and continue to learn about Mexican cooking. Thank you for the video!

    • Lesley

      You’re welcome! To be honest I don’t remember the last time I saw someone make corn tortillas completely by hand. On the street most of the time here, they use presses, just because it’s faster. And yes, the plastic sheet is integral — I’ve been told that if you use any other surface, the masa will stick. Plus the plastic is easy to peel off. I’d actually love to hear the science behind the contact of plastic and nixtamal, if anyone knows…

      • Brian Watkins

        But where did the Olmecs get their plastic sheets?

        My friend describes the way she makes these by hand as “aplaudir.” She doesn’t do it much, though, as she’s a busy professional.

        Once I stopped at a roadside guisados shack for lunch in the hot lowlands of rural southeast Morelos and they made me a big bowl of soup, some nice soft beans, a big serving of really excellent beef stew, lots of hot sauce, an agua de sabor, a chicken thigh in stewed tomatoes, and eight fresh delicious tortillas made entirely by hand. It was well appreciated as I had ridden one hundred miles over the mountains on my bike the previous day to get there from the ombligo. They asked for less than twenty-five pesos.

        • Lesley

          Brian: I didn’t say the plastic sheet has ALWAYS been integral, just that it is now. :-) What they used to use I think has been lost — or rather I’m not sure if anyone asks anymore.

          The meal you described is what I love about Mexico.

  2. Brian Watkins

    I found this at the Soumaya Polanco. It’s an 1857 painted wood and glazed ceramic carving from a series of daily life in Mexico vignettes. I can’t make out exactly how she’s making the tortillas but she’s certainly got a system.

    The series also includes a girl in a chalupa full of vegetables paddling them from Xochimilco to market. The tomatoes appear to be Zapotec Pleated heirlooms but I never see those in Mexican markets.

    I do love those special meals in Mexico. Thanks for writing this blog; it reminds me of good times.

  3. Eileen Donohue

    Tonight I am watching a show on travel to Mexico City on the Wealth TV channel, and that looks like you talking the host as you are taking her on a steeet food tour! Is it you? How cool to see you on TV. Kudos on getting that gig!

    • Lesley

      Yep, it was me! Thanks for the kind words, it was a fun experience.

  4. SW

    When I lived in Guatemala, every restaurant that had a comal had a lady behind it making tortillas by hand using the aplaudir method. I never saw a tortilla press. I was surprised to see the presses everywhere when I moved to Mexico.

  5. This is truly an art and I remember hearing that they called it “aplaudir”.

  6. Siamrut

    First of all, Lesley, you have such a wonderful website! It certainly got me very excited to be here in Mexico City for work!

    I was thinking maybe banana leaf might do the trick instead of plastic. Only way to find out :)

    I’m heading back to the states next week, but definitely stocking up on essential Mexican ingredients and cooking supplies this weekend. Any suggestions on what I definitely can’t miss and places to get them? You’re an inspiration!


    • Lesley

      Hello there! If you want cooking supplies, Mercado de la Merced is a great place to go. They have an entire restaurant-supply section with things like tortilla presses (in four different materials, including wood), molcajetes, molinillos (wooden tool used to foam up hot chocolate), and, my most important item, a comal. I would go there and definitely get a steel comal if you don’t have one — they’re the heaviest ones. (By the way, you’re making me remember that I had an idea to post all this in a blog post someday!)

      On ingredients, I would pick up mole paste — they sell a packaged, sealed variety at Mercado de Medellín, although I’ve also taken regular old paste into my checked luggage with no problems. I would also pick up some achiote paste, also available in little red bars at Medellín, and some chile pasilla oaxaqueño, which is sold at Mercado San Juan. They also sell Mexican coffee beens there.

      Hope that helps and good luck!

      • Elia A.

        Por favor gable aserca de el caffe Arabigo por ejemplo el tamano el bouque tan especial y ya me savoreo una rica taza de cafe Arabigo.

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