Cal y Maíz – Mexico City, Mexico - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Cal y Maíz

Shop for superb tortillas at this homage to the ancient art of nixtamalization.  

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CERTAIN CULINARY TECHNIQUES AND FOODWAYS are so important that, once defined in a word, they will be known by it even as the knowledge travels across borders and language barriers. Due to the crucial role of French cuisine, terms like au gratin and flambée are borrowed virtually unchanged from that language. Places like Mexico City’s Cal y Maíz want another word to be added to that repertoire: nixtamalization.

The word originates from Náhuatl, the language of the Aztec people and refers to the process of using quicklime from ash to make corn dough. The quicklime softens the corn, rendering the resulting rinsed grains tastier, more easily digestible and, most importantly, more nutritious.

Cal y Maíz, which translates to “quicklime and corn,” was established by Rigel Sotelo after realizing that, despite nixtamalization being such a crucial process for Mexican cuisine, few chefs actually did it in-house. Sotelo, who has a background in the sciences from before he pivoted to the restaurant world, was fascinated by the chemistry of nixtamalization. For optimal results, different varieties of corn all require distinct temperatures and times. This was all being threatened due to a lack of diversity in the corn found in Mexico City.

With this realization, Sotelo established a store selling corn products such as totopos, tlacoyos and, of course, tortillas, all using heirloom corn varieties. Cal y Maíz later evolved into a hybrid restaurant. Pink, blue, red, and purple corn kernels join the familiar yellow and white on the table here.

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