Explore the thriving world of Mexican street cuisine by learning about one of its most cherished delicacies, tortas. Flanked by the tantalizing smells of spices and surrounded by the bustle of street vendors, tortas are bite-sized morsels that perfectly capture the essence of Mexican flavors. Every mouthful narrates a story of creativity and heritage, from the layers of delectable fillings to the crunchy bread shell. This post will explain the background, regional differences, and artistic merits of making these portable treats. As we honor Tortas—the iconic Mexican street snack that goes beyond flavor to become a cultural experience—join us on a culinary voyage.
A Mexican Sandwich
A torta closely resembles a traditional American sandwich with a few key, mouth-watering differences. For a total torta newbie, tortas are almost like having all the delicious, Mexican flavors of a taco, or other well-known Mexican dishes, but in a crusty roll. Essentially, all tortas are a type of sandwich but not all sandwiches can be classed as tortas. Subs, paninis, cheesesteaks, and po-boys can all be classed as sandwiches but are all very different in approaches. The same rule applies to tortas and the ingredients and method set them apart from other sandwiches.
Type of Bread
Firstly, the type of wheat bread used to make a torta is the most important ingredient. You can’t use a typical sandwich loaf for this epic style of food as you need a crustier, more substantial bread that won’t easily turn soggy. Guacamole, salsa, and refried beans are all favorite add-ons to a torta and you will need a bread that can handle the extra moisture. There are two main types of bread that are traditionally used to make tortas. Bolillo rolls are used to create tortas called “lonches”. They are most similar to a soft baguette and can also be made with sourdough. You can also use rolls that are more similar to an oval burger bun called teleras. They traditionally have score marks running across the top of the bun, dividing them into 3 sections. Like sandwiches, tortas can be made from a variety of ingredients and are highly versatile.
The next defining feature of a torta is the meat which is usually marinaded or slow-cooked for extra tenderness and flavor. Marinades often are made from cumin, cilantro, paprika, Mexican oregano, garlic, and onion powder. Another great spice for flavoring meat for tortas is chipotle, which is used most commonly in adobo marinades and rubs. Chicken, pork, and beef are all popular choices for torta proteins, and feature heavily in most Mexican cuisine. Tortas ahogadas, originated from Guadalajara, Mexico in the early 1900s. This torta features an absolute must-have combination of flavor. The filling, carnitas, is slow-cooked Mexican pulled pork shoulder meat that is both tender and juicy. It is usually accompanied with sliced, fresh red onion and is covered in red chili sauce for added kick. In some cases, the finished torta can be added to a grill before serving. As with sandwiches, you can choose to have a simple filling, such as chorizo, or a more complex filling combination that includes egg, a selection of meats, or even tamales! Thin or pounded-out cuts of meat are favorable as they absorb the flavors of the marinades best for tortas that are not covered in sauce. One of the most popular takeout options is torta de Milanesa which has a thin, fried, breaded piece of meat (usually pork or chicken) that is perfect for lunch on the go. It is more of a dry sandwich option that won’t cover you in juices as you eat.
Toppings for Tortas
Now for the toppings! Cheese is an essential addition to this delicious street food. In America, it is usually jack cheese that is used but traditionally you would find tortas with queso fresco or another native Mexican cheese. Refried beans are a great extra to add if you are after a heartier torta. If you find an authentic torta street food vendor, you may even be lucky enough to have beans that are seasoned with a little epazote. It has quite a strong taste and is only used in small quantities, but is known to calm stomachs and to help your body process the beans more gently. Salsa can be added if you’d prefer a more saucy and tangy flavor. Guacamole is also a well-loved companion to the torta and will top off your filling with a fresh, creamy, and citrus zest. If you prefer, you can opt for freshly sliced avocado instead. Tortas usually have a layer of fresh salad in them, too. A lettuce leaf, sliced tomatoes, sliced raw onion, or some shredded cabbage are all common additions to a torta. If you like your food on the spicy side, try topping your torta with fresh jalapenos and some red chili sauce.