Oaxaca, Mexico: it’s closer to Guatemala than it is to the USA. It borders Puebla, Veracruz and Geurrero. And it’s home of Tlayudas, your new favourite thing. Imagine a tortilla, crispy on one side, doughy on the other, topped with rich refried beans, spicy meat, and whatever other fresh crunchy additions your heart desires; lightly pickled onions, crunchy cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, queso, you name it. Don’t you want to marry that tortilla? Yeah you do.
Some people call the Tlayuda a ‘Mexican pizza’, but that just sounds like something sad that a failing fast food chain would release; like a pizza with avocado and corn chips on it. As if that’ll distract from the fact that their pizza sucks. No, the Tlayuda is it’s own entity, totally delicious, and unique, and deserving of being considered in it’s own right. I’m kind of obsessed with them.
This is street food that hits all the spots you could want it to. A tlayuda is crispy and doughy; spicy and creamy; tangy and rich. Every bite has something interesting falling out of it and staining your shirt. The sheer variety of textures and tastes means that you never get sick of eating these things. And they are shockingly easy to make too. Not least because most of the ingredients only need to be chopped, and the rest you can either spend the time and make from scratch (fun) or just buy a good quality shortcut from the store (easy).
Sadly, since Australia is not Mexico – isn’t even close to Mexico, there is a serious lack of authentic Mexican ingredients available in my hood. Mexican crema is a no go, ditto Oaxacan cheese and epazote the pungent Mexican herb. Most tragically, for the making of tlayudas, is the lack of good quality corn tortillas, particularly in the size that a classic tlayuda calls for. Here you have two options: you can either find the only good brand of corn tortilla in your neighbourhood and use them no matter their size, which will probably be too small (hint: the good ones are often refrigerated). Or, you can use a large wholewheat flatbread and live with the fact that you’re a gringo who’s using the wrong tortilla. I chose the latter.
Because I’m fine with this post being about delicious food, and a spirit of adventure, I’m also fine with the fact that authenticity isn’t really on the cards. For example, asiento, a kind of unrefined pork lard, isn’t present in my tlayuda, though it is essential to the echt version. My frijoles refratos (so fun to say) are made with black beans, not pinto, and come from canned. I had to sub in tangy feta and sour cream for queso fresco and crema. And I don’t think chorizo is the usual choice for a topping. But the spirit of the tlayuda, in all it’s overflowing, spiced, tangy, sense-assaulting gloriousness, is truly here. Crack a beer, make this for a late lunch on Sunday and start planning that trip to Oaxaca so we can discuss just how wrong I really am! I’ll meet you at the tlayuda stand!
- 2 large (9inch/23cmish) corn tortillas (or whatever flatbreads you got)
- 1 chorizo sausage, sliced into small pieces
- 1 tbsp olive oil (or lard if you're into that)
- ½ small red onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 14oz (440ml) can black beans
- salt, to taste
- sliced cabbage
- cherry tomatoes
- sour cream
- hot sauce
- coriander (cilantro)
- red onion
- queso fresco (or feta cheese)
- First, make the beans. Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan and add the onion and garlic, sauteeing for a few minutes, or until softened and translucent. Add in the cumin and oregano, and toast for a few seconds, before adding in the beans and their liquid. Bring to the boil, then cook for about 5 minutes, or until reduced and heated through. Add a pinch of salt, then mash with the back of the spoon to your desired consistency.
- To prepare the tlayudas, have the tortillas ready and heat a frying pan that will comfortably fit one inside. Add the chorizo, turn on the heat and cook slowly, until the fat has rendered and the chorizo is crispy.
- Remove the chorizo, and reserve the fat. Brush a small amount onto one side of a tortilla, and place it, fat-side down, into the frying pan. Top with half the bean mixture and spread it evenly around.
- Cook until the tortilla bottom is crispy, then repeat with the second tortilla.
- Serve the tlayudas, topped the crispy chorizo, cabbage, cherry toms, avocade, sour cream, hot sauce, coriander (cilantro), red onion, queso fresco, or whatever else you want!