72 Stubbs Street, Kensington (map)
Open Thursday and Friday, 12-2:30pm and 6pm-late
Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am-3:30pm and 6pm-late
My friend Ben tipped me off last week about the existence of La Tortilleria, a tortilla bakery and Mexican street eatery in a light-industrial pocket of Kensington near the freeway. I'm smitten.
La Tortilleria purports to be the only tortilleria in Melbourne making tortillas according to the traditional Aztec 'nixtamal' method, by stone-grinding fresh wholegrain corn rather than making a dough from processed corn flour and water. I met Diana (one of the proprietors, along with Mexican Gerardo) and she talked me through the nixtamalisation process. She explained that the traditional method they use of soaking the fresh corn grain in calcium hydroxide overnight results in significant nutritional benefits, as it releases the niacin (vitamin B3) enabling it to be readily absorbed by the body, improves the bio-availability of amino acids, increases calcium levels and reduces mycotoxin levels - all of which adds up to making them easier to digest and better for you. The Aztecs figured out the enhanced nutritional benefits yielded by nixtamalisation centuries ago because they used to grind the corn on limestone.
The various modern gadgetry used to make the tortillas is proudly on display, including the tank in which the corn grain is cooked and soaked, the stone-grinding mill that makes the nixtamal masa (dough), and the tortilla machine itself. The tortillas are baked fresh each day.
But it's not just about the health benefits: the nixtamal tortillas also have a noticibly enhanced aroma and flavour compared to their processed-corn-flour-and-water counterparts. As La Tortelleria's website states, the difference in the two methods is like making mashed potatoes from fresh potatoes rather than from instant mash powder! Their tortillas are free of preservatives, additives, gluten, cholesterol, and fats (both saturated and trans). They come sold in stacks, either fresh or vacuum-sealed, by the half kilo ($8, approx 22 tortillas) or kilo ($15, approx 45 tortillas).
If you'd like to dine in, you can order tacos ($4.50 each) al pastor with pork and pineapple, with carne asada (grilled beef) or with mushrooms and white cheese. They are FRESH and freaking delicious.
The short menu also includes a few quesadilla options ($4.50 each), guacamole with totopos tortilla chips ($6), and sopes de pollo ($6.50, also available in a vegetarian version). The freshly made totopos were the tastiest tortilla chips I've ever tried, and the sope with beans, lettuce, chicken and crema on a thick tortilla base was equally good.
Speaking of which, when is a Melbourne restaurateur riding the ubiquitous Mexican wave going to open a dedicated sopes house? It needs to happen.
There are various Mexigoods for sale in the tiendita operating in partnership with online Mexican groceries retailer guaca Mall-e, a self-serve salsa station (providing pico de gallo and spicier salsas that are homemade using fresh ingredients), and enough stores of corn grain to last the winter.
And just in case you needed MORE reasons to love La Tortilleria:
- the meat and eggs they use are strictly free range;
- many of their menu items can easily be made vegan;
- for $40 you can order a huge platter for two, which includes most of the items on the menu;
- they serve Mexican spiced coffee and hot chocolate, and flan for dessert;
- they're BYO; and
- provided things go well, Diana hopes to add chilaquiles and huaraches to the menu in the future (!!).
Bear in mind that they're closed Monday to Wednesday. There aren't many tables and as word catches on I'm guessing it will become harder to snare one of them, so consider phoning ahead to book.