For many, carbs are scary if not frightening. In the United States, entire dieting methods revolve around the idea of LOW carb. I wrote my senior research paper on fad diets. Carbs can be nothing but trouble. We are trained to say ¨no” to the second dinner roll. We know by instinct, carbs are not our friends. Carbs are bad and only lead to social distress.
However, no aqui. In Guatemala, carbs are worshipped. The whole culture, in fact, is enveloped in carbo-bliss. From the staple crops of maiz and papas, there is no room for fear. Carbohydrates fuel the hardworking hombres and mujeres, but most importantly, the national economic infrastructure. One staple food stood out to me the most aqui-the tortilla.
Upon our arrival to our first home in Antigua, we were greeted with open arms…and tortillas. We felt welcomed and full. While touring the Mayan capitol of Iximche, we learned that tortillas are remnants of the Mayan Empire. There 4 different types of corn-rojo, blanco, amarillo, and negro. Our guide told us that the indigenous believe that people come from the corn, thus the 4 colors. That translated to the beautiful fact of not just one but 4 different tipos of tortilla. We then had lunch with assorted verduras, frijoles, chile…and tortillas. We began to see a trend. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner… tortillas.
When we arrived at our homestays in San Juan Laguna, many of our host moms taught us the skilled technique of tortilla making. Though none of us were deemed fit by the mothers to be anything more than participantes (beginners), we all walked away with laughs and dough-covered hands.
But truly, tortillas are no laughing matter. Immense skill and advanced practice are required.
I decided to further investigate the idea of tortillas aqui. Over dinner, wrapping our fresh guacamole in our golden tortillas, I asked my host mom, Doña, about the tortilla. She said aqui, the tortilla is not a food at all. It is merely a compliment to the food. This explained why we were eating tortillas with every meal including our corn flakes and spaghetti.
We both laughed; we started analyzing the average amount of tortillas consumed at meals. Doña described how she prepares 20-30 tortillas per meal so everyone can have their usual 4-6 tortillas. If you do not eat your tortillas, you are assumed to be sick, so it is very important to eat your tortillas.
My host mom said she eats tortillas because they are not ¨mal” at all. I gave her a confused look, so she elaborated. Doña explained that tortillas only need 3 ingredients, no processed junk or chemicos. She is the one who buys the local corn, boils it on the open flame, grinds the corn in the molino, mixes in the water and “mol”, claps the formed tortillas, and grills them on the flat black stove. Doña said she has done this since she was ten; all girls learn at this age she said. Their moms taught them just as she taught me. It was then that I understood. Aqui, tortillas are more than just a carbohydrate, more than just a compliment to the meal, they are the everlasting legacy of family and la comunidad. Even if they are a carbohydrate, they are definitely worth it.