Nixtamal Brings Traditional Tortillas to Corona

Making tortillas using nixtamal. (Photo via El Diario video)

Making tortillas using nixtamal. (Photo via El Diario video)

In his colorful “tortillería” in Queens, a Mexican man attracts dozens of customers thanks to one of the mainstay ingredients of Mexican cuisine.

Nobody would have imagined that a basement in Corona could produce the valued dough used to make tortillas, tamales and pozole, which is known among Mexicans as nixtamal.

The process, which originated in Mesoamerica and was developed by the Aztecs, begins early in the morning, when the corn is cooked with water and lime, and no artificial ingredients. This thousand-year-old technique moved from generation to generation, and now fills with memories the hearts of countrymen who flock to Tortillería Nixtamal, on 104-05 47th Ave. in Corona.

“Parents and schools come here so Mexican children who have never been to Mexico can learn a little bit about their culture,” says Fernando Ruiz, owner of the eatery, which is decorated with Aztec warriors and tiles from his country.

Making tortillas using nixtamal. (Photo via El Diario video)

(Photo via El Diario video)

But the nixtamal magic would not be possible without Pepe Ordoñez, the “dough maestro.” Seven years ago, the native of Hidalgo joined the team to take charge of the tortillas, bringing in the knowledge he acquired as a child on his family ranch, where he learned how to sow, harvest and cook the corn.

“It feels good because here we perform what we learned in Mexico,” he says. His grandparents’ job was to make handmade tortillas, and today he is proud to continue this tradition in New York.

For his part, Fernando says he started his enterprise so his Mexican countrymen in Corona could connect with their roots and enjoy their culture. But none of this would have happened without the effort his mother made when she immigrated to the U.S.

“Mexicans come here to work, and with effort you can achieve anything in life. Now, my love of Mexico is helping me survive in this country,” he says.

Go to El Diario to watch the video (in Spanish) that accompanies the piece, and takes you through the process of how tortillas are made. 

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