Off the Beaten Path: Fresh Masa and Italian Tamales at Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona
With so many Mexicans living and working in Corona you’d think that a new tortilleria wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Chowhound's buzz about Tortilleria Nixtamal indicated otherwise though, and inspired me to take a hike from my native Rego Parkistan to Corona.
Tortilleria Nixtamal and its lean green tortilla machine are located in the nabe's Italian-American section, around the corner from Leo's Latticini. As far as I can tell, Tortilleria Nixtamal is the only place in New York City making fresh masa. The month-old operation takes its name from the Aztec word for fresh maize that has been cooked in lime prior to being ground into masa.
Nixtamal’s owners, Fernando Ruiz and Shauna Page, were lucky enough to find Cecilia who had worked for three years in a tortilleria in Mexico. I know nothing about nixtamalization (the process of turning fresh seed corn into nixtamal) but I do know that when the tortilla machine gets going, the entire space starts to steam up and smell wonderfully of corn. The device, which was imported from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, churns out 100 pounds of masa a day. Eighty pounds of nixtmal is ground is turned into tortillas and the remaining 20 is made into the coarser tamale masa.
Ruiz says tortillas made with maseca, or dried masa, taste “like paper.” While I wouldn’t go that far, Nixtamal’s tortillas are lighter and have a much more pronounced corn flavor than any I’ve ever had. Eventually the couple plan to add tacos al pastor, but for now I’m more than happy to scarf down a fresh tortilla with just a touch of salt.
Tortilleria Nixtamal’s Recession Especiale includes a generous bowl of pozole bobbing with fresh corn and hunks of pork along with two insanely crunchy tostadas, a tamale, and a beverage for $6. I tried both the green and red tamales. Page warned me that the red one was pretty hot, but it was just the thing for my cast-iron taste buds.
Nixtamal gets the pork for its tamales and pozole from nearby Italian butcher and deli Franco’s. And therein lies the story of the birth of the Italian tamale. Page brought Franco a red tamale, which he found way too spicy. Her solution: Make him a less spicy version with an Italian accent.
Packed with Franco’s own sausage and peppers and onions, a little sauce and just a bit of mozzarella, this tamale gives fusion a good name. It's not only the first, but also the best, Mexican-Italian mashup I’ve ever tasted. Ruiz tells me that Page sometimes goes a little light on the lard in the other tamales. With all due respect to manteca, the fat from the sausage in the Italian tamale is just glorious, giving it a fluffy polenta-like texture. At $2 a pop, such a fatty delicious treat is sure to become part of my rotation in these lean times.
104-05 47 Avenue, Corona NY (map)