General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 28 Feb 2021/5 Monkey
Text Size:

Search the Site (type in white box):

Guess emoticon Guess...

what the Aztecs called an enchilada?
Guess correctly button

Article suitable for Top Juniors and above

The early morning sound of tortilla-making

Hear the sound an Aztec child would have woken up to early in the morning - a sound that hasn’t changed in many hundreds of years in rural Mexico - scroll to bottom of page (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Click to play the movie

Mother teaching her daughter to make tortillas, Codex Mendoza (original in Bodleian Library, Oxford), folio 60r
Mother teaching her daughter to make tortillas, Codex Mendoza (original in Bodleian Library, Oxford), folio 60r (Click on image to enlarge)

This is a clip from an Encyclopaedia Britannica film “The Story of Pablo” - though filmed in ‘modern’ times (actually 1961) you should easily be able to imagine this same scene almost a millennium ago...
Tortillas were made in many different sizes and shapes. For example, there were butterfly and s-shaped tortillas, some formed like bracelets, others like the hip guards worn in the Aztec ball game. Durán tells of tortillas in the shapes of hands and feet made for the Aztec gods, for tortillas also played a role in ritual life. Unmarried girls were required to make offerings of small tortillas in bowls at the temples before the break of day. Durán, discussing the monthly feast of Tlacaxipeuhaliztli, describes a twisted honey tortilla. Chains were made of these particular corn cakes, and people ‘adorned and girded themselves with them to dance all day.

From the book that accompanied the film...
From the book that accompanied the film... (Click on image to enlarge)

Tortillas were such a basic staple of Aztec diet that they were featured in metaphors and folk belief. For example, if a woman’s tortilla doubled over on the griddle it was believed to foretell the imminent arrival of a visitor, whose approaching stride had metaphorically kicked it into that shape.
As in all Aztec matters, there was a definite, proper manner for eating tortillas. Sahagún reveals this while relating how a nobleman counsels his son to behave while eating. The young man is advised to be prudent in food and drink, not to indulge excessively, and ‘[not to] break up thy tortillas. Thou art not to put a large amount in thy mouth; thou art not to swallow it unchewed. Thou art not to gulp like a dog, when thou art to eat food.

The ancient tradition of making tortillas
The ancient tradition of making tortillas (Click on image to enlarge)

from The Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Vol. 2, p. 155, University of California Press, Oxford, 1992
Picture sources:-
• Codex image scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark facsimile edition of the Codex Mendoza, London, 1938
• Photo of tortilla-making (part of a display in the Museum of Popular Cultures, Mexico City, 1983) by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Follow the link below to learn more about the ancient grinding stone (metate) - and to hear its sound...

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Sep 09th 2016

Our special feature on the metate

‘The daily grind...’

‘The heart of each meal...’

‘Enchiladas, a Culinary Monument to Colonialism’ - History Today article
Feedback button