An American Staple Food

by Kathryn Baldwin

Have you ever tried to pinpoint the top American Staple food? While I was in Peru, it took me 9 hours to realize that the number one Peruvian food is the potato (all 4,000 variations). In Mexico, if you don’t have tortillas then you are apologizing profusely to every guest that arrives. Both of these are simple selections of “the most commonly or regularly eaten foods in the country.” Which brings me to my dilemma: what can’t we live without in the U.S.? I know there are corn and soy products in practically everything on the shelf at Safeway, but that’s more of a staple crop or staple product. Plus, I’m not sure they should count since they rarely appear in true form on the table.

Your “average” American is likely to argue with another “average” American about what food they couldn’t live without. How about cow? I personally wouldn’t mind if I never saw beef again, and my boyfriend wouldn’t drink a glass of milk if you paid him. Butter? Pff. We have an obsession with olive oil and the yellow, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not…” substitution tub. Petrolium? As soon as Sarah Palin and Friends find a way to make gasoline palatable, this could take the cake. The famous, frozen Thanksgiving Turkeys? Maybe one day… and one week of leftovers…per year. McDonalds? I refuse to admit this as a possibility. One staple food could be a harder answer for Americans to agree on than healthcare and gun control combined.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if my culture doesn’t have a staple food, it’s time I start adopting other cultures’ staple foods. Isn’t that what being American is all about? Take, for instance, the tortilla: (The recipe for the tortilla follows. At this point you can put anything on your tortilla. Try veggies, potatoes, avocado and salt, butter, a hot dog wiener; who cares. Worry about trying to cook foreign, non-staples later. If you don’t have a tortilla press, you could probably use a giant, hardbacked book like a Dicitonary. If you’re lucky and have a huge, flat or electric skillet, you could warm a bunch of these puppies at once. Literally, ruining ten tortillas probably costs you the amount of money you waste losing pennies around your house. Don’t take the process too seriously. After smushing and heating two tortillas you know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Who cares if you have deformed circles, that’s what homemade is all about!)

Buy some corn flour at any grocery store. Follow the English or Spanish directions on the side of the bag to make the “masa” dough.


Mix the flour and warmish water in a bowl and add bits of water just until the glob sticks together (two cups flour+1.25 cups water=16 tortillas). Knead it around until it’s not so sticky and cover it with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out. You could even break the glob into golf-ball sized pieces before covering it so that it’s ready to go when you are.


Heat a skillet at medium heat or so. Dampen a dishtowel with warm water and make a warm landing zone for your finished products. Rip a large Ziploc or find another clean plastic bag to use as an envelope in which to smash your masa ball.


Squish down the tortilla press until the tortilla looks how you want it. Take the smashed masa-enclosed-in-plastic over to your skillet, pull off one side of the plastic, then lay the naked side in one hand while you peel off the other side of the plastic.

Release the tortilla onto the pan. Wait 15-20 seconds. The tortilla will slide around your skillet easily by this point. Flip it. Wait 15-20 more seconds. Then, Flip one more time back to the starting point and wait 15 more seconds. This is my favorite part because, if I’m lucky, some bubbles will form and the scene suddenly becomes 3D as my tortilla takes on a unique personality. I don’t know why, but when they pop up like that it makes me feel like the tortilla is as excited as I am to eat tacos.

Then poke the tortilla into your warm zone and move onto the next one.


2 Comments to “An American Staple Food”

  1. Now I really regret not coming over for tacos on homemade tortillas. What was I thinking??!!

  2. Considering I now know how easy they are to make, just come over and I’ll whip some out!

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