On a quiet corner in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, the employees at Tortería Los Güeros, a torta restaurant open since 1974, are going through their opening routine. Genaro Aburto, an owner and torta maker, bends downs to drag a plastic tub into view. “Today is the day we make the pickles,” he says, nodding at the mass of mottled red and green jalapeños bobbing in water. “We’ve already got the carrots, onion, and cauliflower cooking.”
Aburto is just one among legions of torta makers in the capital, those dedicated to assembling Mexico’s most popular sandwich. Though tortas have been eaten for more than a century now, wheat consumption was, at first, fiercely resisted. When the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s carrying wheat, they found an entrenched culture of corn that had been in place for more than 2,000 years. The Spanish created smear campaigns to denigrate corn while proselytizing the purity of wheat; when the taste for bread still failed to catch on, they forced indigenous populations to grow and process it. Hundreds of years later, bread has not supplanted the corn tortilla, though it is eaten as sweet pastry in the mornings, served alongside stews for lunch, rolled into tortillas in the north, and used to sandwich cold cuts and proteins in the ubiquitous, pedestrian torta.