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Susan Sampson | There’s nothing like the taste of fresh tortillas

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Wenatchee offers us a culinary treat that I never found before I moved here — fresh, warm tortillas by the bagful.

Before Wenatchee, we lived in Seattle where we shopped at grand supermarkets. Like every cosmopolitan seaport city, Seattle also featured ethnic enclaves, each with its own restaurants and markets serving its own cuisine. We ate diversely and well there, but never once found warm, fresh tortillas for sale by the bagful.

To my husband Jerry, as a preteen, fresh tortillas were a gateway drug to tasty food. He discovered tortillas in a trailer park in Washington, D.C. His family was living in a travel trailer while his father, who worked for the FAA out of Spokane, was briefed by the State Department for an assignment in Brazil. While Jerry was walking through the trailer park one day, he detected a wonderful aroma. He followed his nose until he came to a woman cooking tortillas on an outdoor grill. He must have looked like a hungry puppy, because she gave him one.

Jerry had been raised on 1950s “comfort food.” He ate cold cereal with sugar and milk for breakfast, a peanut butter or baloney sandwich and an orange for lunch, and meat for dinner, cooked to shoe leather to avoid trichinosis, plus canned vegetables boiled until their colors grayed, to avoid botulism. Tortillas were different — they tasted good!

In Brazil, the family had a cook who prepared food with fresh local ingredients and international flavors, so Jerry learned to enjoy food, but tortillas remained his favorite treat.

Tortillas are a simple, homely food, but I have been served them gourmet style, too — a fine restaurant served me huevos rancheros drenched in hollandaise sauce, a hybrid eggs benedict. It was delectable!

We buy fresh tortillas in East Wenatchee at the Pavilion, or in Wenatchee, at La Plaza, that market on South Wenatchee Avenue with the sculpted triceratops in the parking lot. At the Pavilion, when the tortilla cook is on duty, Jerry hovers at her counter until she pulls tortillas right off the grill for him. At the Plaza, we select a bagful of tortillas from an ice chest that keeps them warm for hours. We open the bag as soon as we pay for it and get it out of the store, and we eat a couple of them plain, even before we can get them home.

Susan Sampson writes about the joys of being a newcomer to North Central Washington. She can be reached at alienfiction@yahoo.com.

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