Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vitamin T - The Mexican Special

Torta de Tamal - or Guagaloto - Double Vitamins!

Once, during my first months living in Mexico, in Cuernavaca, I was giving an English class in the Nissan plant there; the topic of the class was health food.  A couple of the students mentioned different kinds of natural juices, vegetables, etc.  Then the third student spoke:

"I follow the vitamin T diet," he said with a humorous little smile; "Tacos, Tortas and Tamales!"

Tacos al Pastor - a Favorite
The whole group chuckled. You can probably imagine that this isn't the healthiest of diets.  If you're not Mexican, you'll probably recognize tacos and tamales, but maybe not tortas.  I'll give a little description of the three, since there are a few interesting variations.  Most are very delicious, but equally unhealthy

Tacos.  Most people know what these are, but in Mexico they tend to put more meat (greasier and tastier) and fewer vegetables, with only  sprinkle of onions and coriander leaves.  Tacos have many tasty variations, including "al Pastor" which has meat from a spit, like Doner Kebabs, but with Mexican spices.  Tacos deserve several posts on their own.  Around Mexico city small ones can be found for as low as 15 cents a piece (you'll need to order about 10), or larger ones with more expensive toppings like shrimp for up to $3 a piece; one of these could be an entire meal.

A Classic Torta - Lots of Meat
Tortas.  This is a kind of sandwich, like a sub, but on a shorter piece of bread.  The toppings also vary more; it can include many of the different meats they put on tacos, scrambled eggs and much more.  These can have more vegetables, or even be vegetarian, including toppings like avocados, tomatoes or lettuce, or they can be piled high with 5 kinds of greasy meat with cheese melted over it.  You choose.  Tortas vary in size, and can cost anywhere from $1 a piece to $5 a piece.

Tamales.  Mexico City has it's favorite type of tamales, the kind wrapped in corn husk.  These all have the same cake-like texture, but can have a large variety of flavors, from sweet with raisins, to chicken or hot peppers with cheese, or a spicy sauce called mole.  You can even find "tortas de tamales" also called "guajalotos" which are tamales stuck inside of role.  Outside of the central region, they make different varieties, often wrapped in banana leaves, almost inevitably with chicken.  These have a smoother texture.  These have many varieties, and this is a broad generalization. The Guatemalan variety which you can find in Toronto is very similar.  People like to have a hot, sweet drink called "atole" with tamales, especially a variety called "champurado" which is chocolate flavored.  In Mexico city a tamale is about 50 cents, and likewise atole.  Here in Playa del Carmen, they're double that.

(I think there might be a bunch of other t-word foods that fall into this diet, but these are definitely among the favorites.)

If your diet avoids either fat or carbs, vitamin T might not do you much good.  My guess is that this kind of diet has a very close connection to the fact that many Mexicans suffer from gastritis - a word that I can't really remember hearing before I moved here.

BUT all three are absolutely delicious!  I also believe that in moderation, they're nothing wrong with eating this stuff, just not every day, every meal, like that student of mine back in Cuernavaca.


  1. Jacob, there is a place in Coyoacan where we get the mot delicious and filthy torta you have ever had. You need rubber gloves to eat it. I think it is called a Zocateca, with pineappl?. Anyway, it falls all over the place but tastes soooooooo gooood! It costs almost $3 each but fills you for the day. Jamon, queso, aguacate, you name it, it has it. A bi-pass surgeon´s dream. We eat them about once a week. We are gaining weight, so it`s time to cut back!!!

  2. That sounds great! Next time I'm in Mexico City, I'll make an effort to go and try one. I'll also plan to eat only fruit and vegetables for the next month to balance the health factor. But I'm sure it'll be well worth it ...

  3. I'm not even going to read this one right now!. I'm hungry just with the one about Mole! and now the vitamine T!!!! aaaaaagh.. :( Miss my trompo tacos! with pineapple mmmmm

  4. Excuse me, tortas mexicanas are not unhealty.

    Mexican tortas, contain several food groups and provide a full and healthy food such as carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and dairy.

    Carbohydrates: Bread; Proteins:the meat; vegetables: lettuce,onion, tomato, avocado; Dairy: cheese, cream.. So...

  5. Nokriss, you're right that Mexican tortas CAN be healthy; they can have veggies, good meat, and a balance of all food groups. But, you can't make this same argument for ALL Mexican tortas.

    For example, what Mexicans call the torta cubana has about 5 different kinds of greasy, fried meats on it (including fried hotdogs, cut up, dripping in oil)with tons of cheese melted on top of the meat. This could hardly be called "healthy" or balanced.

    Living in Mexico it is easier to be healthy than in Canada - I've gained a good 15 pounds since I came back - but many Mexicans I know seem to prefer the unhealthy versions, even though it's very easy to be healthy if you want to.