Yesterday I mentioned that the traditional baked-clay comales are disappearing in Guatemala in favor of the metal comal; heated through gas. All this talk about the comal and some of you might be wondering what the heck, what is the comal and what is used for? Well, the comal is the Pre-Colombian stove for Mesoamerica. It is used mostly to cook maize-based tortillas, a Spanish term derived from the word torta, meaning a round cake.
The tortilla, that is most familiar to North Americans and quite possible most of the world, is a kind of thin unleavened flat bread, made from finely ground maize (corn) or wheat flour. Here I am paraphrasing the entry of Tortillas in Wikipedia (click the link for a longer definition).
All the cultures of the world found a way to include carbohydrates in their diet. Maize-based foods and tortillas are the carbohydrates for the Mesoamerican cultures. It is the equivalent of rice and wheat for Asia and Europe. Maize, however, is much more than a food group. Maize defines the Mesoamerica’s peoples. I have posted several entries regarding maize, but I believe I stated its importance more clearly in Mayan Pizza and Frijoles Colorados. Maize is one of the most important ingredients in the genesis of the human kind according the Popul Vuh, the Mayan equivalent of the Bible.
In this photo, we have a window into the tortilla-making process as it is done in Guatemala. Unlike Mexico, where tortillerías, the place where they make and sell tortillas, are micro-industrial joints and tortillas are made with machines and in large numbers, in Guatemala tortillas are made by hand and in a setting pretty much like this one.
This photo does not have great color, as I like, but I was very lucky to be permitted to photograph these two indigenous women in front of their comal. The photograph was taken at night with a tripod and with lens opened for 3 seconds. I am happy with the overall feel and rhythm of the image. What do you think of it?
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