Tortilla Soup: The Mexican Heritage Dish You Didn’t Know About
Image Credit: Tortilla Soup is a homely Mexican dish originating in Tlaxcala. Image courtesy: Facebook/Boris Arauz

Around the year 2008, while I was taking Spanish classes in college, I discovered Mexico through its language and food. My Spanish teacher had suggested that listening to Spanish music and watching Spanish films will help us students immerse in the culture and pick up the language faster, better. Most of us turned to Latin American musicians for relatability. I, ever in love with food, picked up Mexican cookbooks—which were easily available, because this was the time when Mexican food was taking over the world.  

The first thing I discovered was the Mexican love for spice, something any Indian can relate to. The second thing I discovered was that Mexican culinary heritage was made of ancient Aztec and Mayan influences merged with Spanish colonial influences; again, that’s easy for an Indian to understand given how our cuisines have evolved over the centuries too. The third thing I found was the Mexican love for food was inevitably bound in a sense of family, community and tradition—something we Indians have in common with them. The fourth thing I discovered, was Tortilla Soup. 

Even today, as Indians have taken to love tacos, tostadas, burritos, chilli con carne and myriads of other Mexican dishes, the humble Tortilla Soup remains relatively unknown. This, despite a 2001 movie by the same name that highlights Mexican food culture, sense of family and large bowls of Tortilla Soup shared throughout the film! In case you didn’t know about Tortilla Soup, here’s what you should know. 

The Making Of An Everyday Sopa

Known in Spanish as Sopa De Tortilla, Tortilla Soup is a humble Mexican soup that is consumed by the nation’s populace every day. It is in no way a celebratory dish, but a simple comfort food that derived its name from the generous topping of crispy tortillas on top of the soup. In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that Tortilla Soup is Mexico’s dal-chawal or khichdi—a meal in itself that you make a large batch of and share with the entire family!  

Just like Indian food, Mexican cuisine has evolved through the ages by the fusion of native Aztec, Mayan and Incan influences and colonial ones. The story of the Tortilla Soup is the perfect example. Some experts believe that Tortilla Soup was first invented in the pre-Hispanic times by native Aztecs—which is why, rather controversially, the soup is also known as Aztec soup in some places. The dish was apparently created as a simple, easily digestible fare that could be cooked up with local ingredients—specifically the tortillas or flatbreads prepared with maize. 

The more popular story about the soup’s origins says that it was invented in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. In the native Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl, Tlaxcala literally means ‘the place where tortilla is abundant’. Naturally, this has to be the place where Tortilla Soup was born. Tlaxcala was one of the first places the Spaniards came to. And with the Spaniards, came the concept of making soups and broths, with the inclusion of dairy products. Thus, was born the Tortilla Soup, the result of two culinary cultures merging together. 

Tomatoes, Corn And Cheese...In Soup Form

Simply put, the dish that was invented back then was a warm chicken broth with a base of tomatoes and chillies, topped with cheese, and of course, strips of tortilla. From Tlaxcala, the dish travelled to various parts of Mexico and was adopted by households everywhere. In some places, people took to adding cream or sour cream to the soup. In others, people played around with local herbs and took to adding them. But the essence of Tortilla Soup has forever remained the same, and it’s never served with crispy tortillas on top—with more to come if you need them. 

So, why hasn’t this culturally rich dish made its way to the Indian tapestry of Mexican food yet? It may be because the dish is too humble. It may be because all the Mexican dishes Indians love can be enjoyed on the go, while Tortilla Soup is something you share with the family over dinner. Whatever the reason may be, I certainly believe it’s a dish Indians can add to their list of favourite soups—simply because it meets so many of our own standards. It’s spicy, it’s tomato-based, it’s family-friendly and can be customized according to our personal tastes. The best bit? We Indians love our maize or makke ki roti just as much as Mexicans love their tortillas!