Gorditas, the thick corn flatbreads from Mexican cuisine, have a name that might seem curious to some. The word “gordita” literally translates to “little fat one” in Spanish. This is an apt description of these puffy fried or baked breads, but how exactly did they get this moniker? There are a few theories behind the origins of the name “gordita.”
Theories on the Origin of the Name
One of the most straightforward theories is that gorditas were named for their thickness. Traditional gorditas are made from masa dough, which is cornmeal mixed with lard or shortening. This gives the dough a rich, fatty quality that makes it thicker than tortillas and other flatbreads. When cooked on a griddle or fried in oil, the dough puffs up into a distinctively chubby shape. So “gordita” references the pleasing plumpness of the bread.
Another idea is that gorditas got their name from the fat and juicy filling stuffed inside. Most gorditas are cut open after cooking and filled with ingredients like fried pork, cheese, beans, lettuce, cream, and salsa. The filling makes the bread look fatter and overflow with delicious stuffing. So perhaps gorditas were named “little fats” based on their filled-out appearance.
There is also a folk legend about the origin of the gordita. According to this story, a woman was cooking gorditas to sell at her food stand. A man asked what she was making, and she replied “gorditas” off the cuff. The name stuck, and her stuffed flatbreads became popularly known as gorditas. This appealing origin story can’t be definitively proven, but it provides a colorful explanation for the name.
History of Gorditas
Gorditas have long been a part of traditional Mexican cuisine. Corn has been a staple crop of Mesoamerica going back thousands of years. Here is some history on these popular stuffed flatbreads:
Thick cornmeal flatbreads similar to gorditas have been around since at least the time of the Aztecs. Grinding dried corn into masa flour has ancient roots in Mesoamerican food culture. The Aztecs and Mayans likely created roasted corn cakes akin to early gorditas.
Over the centuries, gorditas developed into distinct regional variations across Mexico. The differences depended on local culinary customs and ingredient availability. For instance, gorditas from Oaxaca are baked and have a distinct disc shape, while gorditas from Guadalajara are spherical and fried.
In the 20th century, gorditas became more standardized into the puffy oval shape most people recognize today. They are traditionally made from masa fried on a griddle. Modern fillings like chicharrón (fried pork belly) and queso (cheese) became popular nationwide.
As Mexican immigrants brought their cuisine abroad, gorditas began to spread internationally. They can now be found across the United States, from restaurants to street food carts. Gorditas have become a tasty symbol of Mexican culture.
Traditional Regional Variations
While gorditas today have a familiar fried masa base, they originally varied widely between Mexican regions. Here are some of the traditional forms of the gordita:
Gorditas from the Oaxaca region are baked instead of fried. They have a thick, disc-like shape and pillowy texture. They are often stuffed with black beans and quesillo cheese.
Gorditas poblanas are a regional specialty. They consist of fried masa pinched into a round bun shape and filled with minced meat and mole poblano chili sauce.
Gorditas from the Jalisco region are made by flattening masa dough into thick ovals. Once fried, they are sliced open and filled with meat, beans, and salsa.
Gorditas of Yucatan are small, thick, and fried into a ball shape. Typical fillings include cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and repollo (shredded cabbage).
Guerrero gorditas use fresh masa reheated on a griddle. When the masa puffs up, it is pressed flat again and cooked until crisp. Fillings like chicken or chorizo are scooped on top.
How Gorditas Are Made
While regional recipes vary, most gorditas follow a similar basic production process:
Corn kernels are first dried and then rehydrated in water and lime or ash to make hominy. This hominy is then ground into a fine, damp cornmeal called masa. The masa is mixed by hand or machine until it forms a soft, pliable dough.
Forming the Dough
Next, the gordita maker takes a ball of masa and flattens it between their hands into a thick oval patty, usually around 4 inches across. The shape is reminiscent of a hamburger patty.
Traditional gorditas are cooked on a griddle or comal. The dough patties are placed on the heated surface and fried on both sides until puffed and golden brown. Gorditas can also be baked, deep fried, or grilled depending on the recipe.
Splitting and Filling
Once cooked, gorditas are split through the middle using a knife. The puffy interior is then filled with ingredients of choice, like meat, beans, cheese, vegetables, salsa, cream, etc.
Finally, the filled gorditas are served hot and fresh. They can be eaten by hand like a sandwich or knife and fork. Gorditas are best when they have a crispy fried exterior and soft, steamy interior.
Ingredients in Gorditas
Gorditas have just a few main ingredients, though fillings can vary widely:
– Masa – The cornmeal dough made from nixtamalized hominy is the foundation of gorditas. Masa must have the right balance of moisture and density.
– Salt – A pinch of salt enhances the masa’s flavor. Other seasonings like garlic or herbs can also be added to the dough.
– Lard or Oil – Adding a small amount of fat to the masa creates a richer, more tender texture. Lard is traditional, but vegetable oil also works.
– Water – Water is used to moisten and bind the masa dough. The right consistency should be pliable but not sticky.
– Fillings – Gorditas are stuffed with savory fillings like meats, cheeses, beans, veggies. Salsas and creams add moisture and flavor.
Types of Gorditas
While the basic fried masa bread remains consistent, gorditas can vary widely based on fillings, toppings, and cooking methods. Some popular styles include:
Gordita de Chicharrón – Stuffed with crispy fried pork belly and sometimes potatoes. A delicious heartier option.
Gordita de Chorizo – Spicy Mexican sausage makes a satisfying protein-packed filling. Often paired with potato or beans.
Gordita Ahogada – Topped with tomato sauce and drowned in a chile-spiked broth. The “drowned” gordita is soupy and full flavored.
Gordita de Nata – Filled with a sweetened cream cheese spread called nata for a dessert take on the gordita. Often drizzled with honey or sugar.
Gorditas Veganas – For a plant-based version, gorditas are stuffed with ingredients like mashed beans, sauteed mushrooms, avocado, jackfruit, etc.
As mentioned before, the fillings of gorditas vary widely across Mexico’s diverse regions:
– Oaxaca – Quesillo cheese, black beans
– Puebla – Mole poblano, minced meat
– Veracruz – Chicken tinga, avocado
– Guerrero – Chorizo, potato, cabbage
– Yucatan – Cochinita pibil, pickled red onion
– Jalisco – Carnitas, refried beans, salsa
– Sinaloa – Carne asada, guacamole, cream
Gorditas vs. Sopes vs. Garnachas
Gorditas are part of a Mexican flatbread family including sopes and garnachas. While similar, these cousins have some distinctions:
– Thick, pillowy masa base
– Puffed rectangular shape
– Cut in half and stuffed
– Can be fried or baked
– Thinner, flatter corn disc
– Pinched up edges
– Toppings spread on top
– Always fried
– Flat, thin, round masa base
– Crispy texture
– Sauce and toppings piled on
– Always fried
So gorditas have a distinct thick, pudgy look compared to sopes and garnachas. Gorditas are also split open on one side rather than topped. But all three make tasty Mexican street eats!
Gorditas are a flavorful flatbread option that can also deliver a nutritional punch:
– Complex Carbs – The corn masa provides energizing complex carbohydrates.
– Dietary Fiber – Whole grain corn and fillings like beans boost fiber content.
– Protein – When stuffed with protein-rich fillings like meat, cheese or beans, gorditas can supply a good amount of protein.
– Vitamins & Minerals – Ingredients like cheese, cabbage, onion and tomato offer vitamins and minerals.
– Calories – A single gordita can range from 200-300 calories depending on size and filling. Not bad for a hearty, handheld meal.
While fried gorditas have more fat and calories than baked ones, even these can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. Be mindful of heavy fillings like pork to keep gorditas from becoming too decadent.
Where to Find Gorditas
Gorditas are sold at restaurants, street food carts, and food trucks across Mexico and beyond. Here are some places to savor excellent gorditas:
Taquerias – Many taco joints and taquerias in Mexico serve freshly made gorditas filled with typical taco proteins like carne asada, chorizo, al pastor.
Carnicerías – Butcher shop “carnicerías” often have gorditas stuffed with the house specialty meats.
Feria Street Stands – Outdoor street fairs called “ferias” throughout Mexico frequently have gordita vendors serving piping hot gorditas and other antojitos (street snacks).
Loncherías – Humble “lonchería” lunch counters dish out homestyle gorditas for workers wanting quick, hearty fare.
Food Trucks – Gorditas are popular street eats for Mexican food trucks and carts across the US. Keep an eye out at festivals and events.
Taquerias & Restaurants – In areas with large Mexican populations like Los Angeles, Chicago, or Texas, taquerias and restaurants often list gorditas on the menu.
A few gordita chains have brought their puffy masa pockets to the masses:
– Del Taco – This Mexican fast food favorite offers gorditas on its menu.
– Taco Bell – Taco Bell sold gorditas for a limited time in the 1990s and 2000s.
– Gorditas Doña Tota – This Mexican chain specializing in gorditas has over 200 locations.
– Gorditas Lopez – Founded in 1975, this brand now has over 14 locations across California.
So keep an eye out for gorditas on the menus at your favorite taquerias and Mexican joints. The “little fats” make for a satisfying meal.
How to Make Gorditas at Home
Want to try your hand at making gorditas? Here is a straightforward recipe to make classics at home:
– 2 cups masa harina
– 1 1/2 cups warm water
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (plus more for cooking)
– Desired fillings like meat, beans, cheese
– Shredded lettuce, tomato, salsa, cream for serving
1. In a bowl, mix together the masa harina, warm water, salt and 1 Tbsp oil. Knead until a smooth, soft dough forms. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Press each between your palms into oval patties about 1/2-inch thick.
3. In a skillet over medium heat, add a thin layer of oil. Cook the gordita patties for 2-3 minutes per side until lightly browned and puffed.
4. Slice open the gorditas through the middle. Stuff with desired fillings like carnitas, black beans, queso, etc.
5. Top with lettuce, tomato, salsa, Mexican cream, cilantro, or other favorite gordita toppings. Enjoy warm!
With just a few basic ingredients, you can make these Mexican favorites at home. Experiment with fun fillings and regional variations. ¡Buen provecho!
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about gorditas:
Are gorditas gluten free?
Traditional gorditas made from corn masa are naturally gluten free. However, some modern recipes substitute wheat flour for part of the masa, so these versions would contain gluten. Check ingredient lists to be sure.
How do you eat a gordita?
Gorditas can be picked up by hand and eaten like a sandwich. Be careful of fillings that may drip out. For a less messy approach, cut into the gordita with a fork and knife to expose the interior, then eat it with utensils.
Are gorditas fried or baked?
Most gorditas are fried on a griddle or in oil, which gives them a crispy exterior and soft interior. However, gorditas can also be baked for a lighter version. Baking gives them a distinct disc-like shape.
What is the difference between a gordita and huarache?
Both are thick masa flatbreads, but huaraches have an oblong shape and are traditionally topped with ingredients rather than stuffed. Gorditas are oval and cut open to fill the pocket inside.
Can you freeze gorditas?
Gorditas freeze well for later use. Freeze pre-cooked plain gorditas up to 2 months, then reheat and fill as desired. You can also assemble and freeze filled gorditas for 1-2 months. Reheat frozen gorditas in the oven or microwave.
Gorditas get their delightfully chubby name from their puffed and stuffed appearance. With ancient roots in Mexican cuisine, these fried or baked masa pocket breads make for a hearty, portable meal with endless regional variations. From street corner snacks in Oaxaca to taco joint staples in Los Angeles, the savory masa and juicy interior fillings of gorditas satisfy appetites in Mexico and across the globe. With their timeless comfort and bold flavors, gorditas will long remain a popular culinary treat.