As the Mexican wave swept Melbourne, Diana Hull couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. Back in Mexico, the best tortillas are made with whole stoneground nixtamalised corn (dried corn that’s been treated with an alkali solution). But in Melbourne the only option was pre-soaked, dried and pre-ground corn flour (masa, which you can buy at Casa Iberica on Johnston Street if you want to make them at home). It’s not bad, but nothing like getting them hot and fresh from a dedicated tortilleria – which is what most Mexicans do, incidentally. So, Hull and partner Gerardo Lopez went out on a limb, ordered up a few thousand bucks’ worth of tortilla-making equipment, and set up Melbourne’s first tortilleria using whole corn. Trust us – unless you’ve got an Aztec granny, these are the best tortillas you’re gonna lay your hands on in Melbourne.
The process starts with whole Australian corn maize that’s soaked and cooked overnight with calcium hydroxide and stone ground to make a thick dough. It’s fed into a machine that pats and flips until, like magic, soft yellow discs emerge. Between 2000 and 4500 are made per day and the intoxicating scent is like corn cake baking.
La Tortilleria does a small menu of Mexico City street food - the crowd favourite is tacos al Pastor. Free-range (Otway) pork is marinated in achiote, ancho and guajillo chillies and – wait for it – cola. Apparently it helps tenderise the meat. It’s threaded onto a vertical spit with a chunk of pineapple on top. The tortillas then get loaded with carved meat, a few pineapple tidbits, onion and coriander. It’s a mariachi band in your mouth.
Try the empanadas. The masa dough is shaped in crescents around a spicy mix of shredded chicken, chipotle chillies, thyme, oregano and cloves. They’re deep-fried to become heavenly little hot pockets.
La Tortilleria fills up nightly with a good quotient of the bearded and the bike-loving plus a lot of Mexican and El Salvador expats, be they big families or homesick students. The air is thick with Spanish chatter – both from the staff and a live radio broadcast from Mexico City. Come and join the party.