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Puffy Tacos Vs. Gorditas: An Oily Treat That’s Popular On Both Sides Of The Border

With the pandemic closing many restaurants, this breakfast staple helped smaller, family-owned eateries stay open.

Veracruz’s people might start their day having picadas, empanadas, or any of their three types of gorditas: white, black, or sweet. They might bathe these snacks with salsa or mole and top them with grated queso fresco.

Gorditas are ubiquitous in Veracruz. Jarochos — Veracruz’s people — can find them anywhere. However, the best places to enjoy these snacks are family-owned businesses called fonditas or patios with an improvised kitchen and a couple of tables. Jarochos and tourists love to have their traditional Veracruz breakfast, accompanied by chocolate milk, coffee or a soda.

As much as Jarochos would like gorditas to be an exclusive treat from Veracruz, Tex-Mex cuisine has a variation of them, the puffy taco. The first step to make either of them is deep-frying a tortilla until it is puffed up and a little golden.

Puffy tacos became popular in the U.S. in the 1940s-1950s. “Claims for having invented this high-cholesterol treat ran from Rosita’s in Laredo to the venerable Dallas chain, El Fenix,” said Jeffrey M. Pilcher in his book, “Planet Taco.

Gorditas may be white, black or sweet. They are a traditional snack of Veracruz. (Carlos Ramírez/Café Words)

“Gorditas are Jarochas, of course,” said Ermelinda Reyes Alemán, the owner of Antojitos Linda in Veracruz. “I’ve been making snacks for 34 years in a business that my mother-in-law and I founded. This snack is from Veracruz. For as long as we can remember, nobody else has claimed it.”

Gorditas and puffy tacos have a lot in common. Corn dough is their main ingredient. Tortillerías [tortilla factories] sell it. A kilo might cost between 10 and 12 pesos [about 50 cents] in Veracruz, and that’s enough to make 14 to 16 pieces.

An essential element in these snacks is salsa. Usually, they have something for everyone: tomato for the children, ranchera or green salsa for those who prefer something mild, mole for a heavier craving or chipotle for those who dare try the spiciest. Queso fresco or ranch cheese typically provide a final touch to these traditional snacks.

“Tourists enjoy the traditional food from Veracruz here at the port. It brings great satisfaction when they recognize our work and leave, saying that everything was delicious. The most sought-after dishes are picadas and gorditas with their mandatory beans,” said Reyes Alemán.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, 60 percent of the restaurants and coffee shops in the Veracruz-Boca del Río area closed their doors, according to Santiago Martínez Dordella, president of Canirac, Mexico’s national chamber of commerce for restaurants. Hundreds of fonditas rescued diners, offering breakfast and food delivery service. Of course, they served gorditas!

Cooks mix corn dough with beans to make black gorditas. (Carlos Ramírez/Café Words)

Interested in making traditional gorditas? Follow these simple steps:

Ingredients: 

5 cups of Mexican cornmeal

Vegetable oil or lard

1 cup minced onion

1 cup grated queso fresco or ranch cheese

For the red salsa:

2 tomatoes

2 morita peppers

1 clove garlic

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation 

To make the salsa, boil the tomatoes with the peppers for 5 minutes. Blend them with garlic, salt and black pepper.

To prepare the gorditas’ dough, mix the cornmeal with a cup of water and knead by hand. Make small balls with the dough and crush them to create flat cakes.

Heat oil or lard in a non-stick skillet. Cook the corn cakes in it for two minutes and turn them over. They will puff up.

When cooked, pinch the gorditas’ edges with your fingers, creating a sort of plate. On its center, add salsa, onion and grated cheese. Enjoy!

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Matthew B. Hall.)