On a Saturday morning at Nixta tortilleria and Mexican Takeout, a small crew of cooks is busy working getting ready for customers to arrive. The restaurant takes its name from a process called Nixtamalization, an Indigenous foodway originating in the Americas.
Antonia Cervantes, one of the workers, pours large pans full of corn kernels into a strainer. They’ve already been soaked in an alkaline solution to loosen the outer hull. Next, she rinses the corn, scrubbing them with her small, sturdy hands.
Next, Cervantes prepares a grinding machine. It’s a mechanized version of an ancient process with roots in Mayan culture. Traditionally, a hand tool called a stone metate would be used to grind the grain. At Nixta, the grinding machine makes things go a bit quicker.
KFAI’s Sheila Regan tells the story. Click on the SoundCloud link to hear the full story.
At the head of operations at Nixta is Gustavo Romero, a chef born in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico.
“My hometown is central Mexico, we have some of the biggest productions corn in the country in the Central. It was always so important for us. It is the basis of Mexican cuisine. The idea of coming to a place where you’re so far from home, a lot of times you’d eat stuff like that and make you feel closer.” says Chef Romero.
Romero’s culinary career began with cooking Italian food. His formal training included a stint in Florence, Italy.
He got interested in the old ways of making tortillas while working at a restaurant in Oakland, California.
“They had a masa production, they had a masa program. And I hadn’t had a tortilla like that in a very long time.The memories, the flavors, it really touched a lot into my childhood and things that were important for me and moving to a place like Minnesota and in searching for things like that and not being able to find them. It creates an opportunity.”
MinneCulture on KFAI is made possible with support from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund