The tortilla is many things. At its very simplest it is a meal all by itself. Sometimes it is eaten rolled up with only a pinch of salt inside. Or maybe just a smear of salsa.

Mothers sometimes wad a fresh warm tortilla up into a sticky ball and let their teething baby gnaw on it much like American mom’s give there babies Cheerios to stuff into their small drooling little mouths.

Plate lunches here are approached in three distinct ways: A diner rolls up a tortilla and eats it as scoops up his meal of beans, rice and pork chunks smothered in salsa with a spoon. Another diner might attack the same meal by individually scooping all three plated components into tortillas to build tacos. While another diner might forgo the spoon and tear a tortilla into strips and use the pieces to scoop up food.

Tortillas go far back into the mists of time. Constructed of mashed corn, the most ancient of indigenous domesticated food, it has been eaten as a primary food on this isthmus forever. A meal here always includes a warm basket of tortillas.

A handmade corn tortilla is a thing of substance. Here in Mexico the tortilla hasn’t been dumbed down for a modern populace. Tortillas still represent the past as truly being capable as a standalone meal. The poorest of campesinos still go off to the field each morning carrying a lunch of no more than a sack of tortillas, a few chilies, and maybe a few cooked beans left over from the night before.

Sometimes greater than the diameter of a coffee saucer (and sometimes almost as thick), grilled on flat iron over a gas burner, they are sometimes crispy on the outside but always chewy.

I was in my favorite fonda a couple of weeks ago for lunch and Lillia and Katy told me a rather scandalous tale about a man who came in and ate a full plate of food, 11 tortillas, 2 big bowls of fresh salsa, washed down by two cokes and then got indignant when Katy asked him for 5 pesos more over the set menu price.

Lillia and I now have a standing joke so whenever she asks me how many tortillas I want – I usually say one, maybe two – and she’ll quip and say,’once’ (own-say, eleven). And we’ll both laugh like it’s the funniest joke ever.