Molding more than corn — molding nutrition

Guatemala, June 26, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Martha Munocito/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A “muñeco” — a basket full of Guatemalan tortillas covered with a traditional kitchen towel. Photo: Martha Munocito/Mercy Corps

One of Guatemala's main staple foods is corn — in fact, Guatemalans sometimes even refer to themselves as “corn people.” One of the traditional ways to consume corn here is in the form of tortillas.

One specific, and unforgettable, aspect of the process of making tortillas is that "pla pla pla" or "clap clap clap" sound made by female hands, young or old, massaging the corn’s dough and molding tortillas every day. The maneuver is masterfully done by elegant and rhythmic female fingers shaping the corn’s dough. Those fingers move naturally in a circle to mold tortillas all day long. This tradition is passed in the kitchen at an early age, from generation to generation, and from stove to stove.

Mothers participating in Mercy Corps' PROCOMIDA program here in Guatemala use the pinto beans and vegetable oil being provided by the project to combine with corn from their crop fields. They use these two ingredients to prepare the traditional Guatemalan tayuyos or shutes, which traditional foods made from tortillas mixed with beans. These two types of filled tortillas are favorite foods for young children. Mothers mold the corn and PROCOMIDA supports them to preserve cooking traditions with highly nutritious ingredients.

Young girls are young chefs in training. They watch their grandmothers or mothers or sisters do the dance with their hands and fingers in their kitchen. They watch how their relatives turn tortillas up side down from the typical plate — or “comal” — that is on top of the firewood.

They have witnessed how the tip of fingers experiences the heat that comes from the cooked dough. Each cooked tortilla is placed one on top of another to make the traditional “muñeco,” a basket full of tortillas covered with a traditional kitchen towel.

I have witnessed this cultural tradition during those mornings when I run on deserted streets, paved and unpaved roads. The morning fog mixes in with the clouds of smoke from household chimneys — places where I can sometimes catch glimpses through kitchen windows where female hands are clapping and caring for the wood fire stoves serenaded by that "pla pla pla" sound.

Corn keeps cultural roots alive here in rural Guatemala, and PROCOMIDA's produce support the healthy growth of generations molding more than corn.