Every spring I get an itch to return to Texas as it just might be the best time of year to be there. The bluebonnets and other wildflowers are in bloom, the temperatures are mild, and after winter there’s an overall sense of joy throughout the state, perhaps best reflected in San Antonio’s celebration known as Fiesta.
Fiesta occurs every April and it lasts for about two weeks. The festival was started in 1891 as a way to honor the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, from the Texas Revolution in 1836. It’s a rich and complex festival with a royal court, parades, pilgrimages, and countless other events.
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If you ask any homesick San Antonian what they miss most about their hometown, you’ll usually hear a tale about Fiesta. And while there are many traditions surrounding the celebrations, the thing people discuss the most is the splendid array of foods.
On offer at Fiesta are tacos, kebobs, queso flameado, tamales, sopapillas, Mexican corn, and more. But the dish my friends deem the most beloved are the gorditas—round, thick masa cakes that have been fried, split in half, and then stuffed with a variety of fillings. I had friends from San Antonio in college who would skip classes in order to make the six-hour drive just to get their fix. They are that good. Now, you can stuff gorditas, which in Spanish translates to little fat ones, with just about anything. And in Texas, you’ll most commonly find them stuffed with meat, cheese, iceberg lettuce, and tomatoes. Basically, it’s your traditional crispy taco fillings sandwiched between a thicker, slightly crisp round shell.
While they’re becoming more common throughout the state, gorditas are most prominent in San Antonio and in West Texas towns such as El Paso. And like many Tex-Mex dishes, there is indeed a Mexican counterpoint also known as gorditas, though the difference between those and what you find in Texas is that in Mexico they stuff there’s with meat or beans, cilantro, onions, and maybe a sprinkle of cotija cheese.
In New York, I can often find Mexican gorditas at both taco trucks and in taquerias. However, they are always done the Mexican way, which is fine but sometimes I have a craving for a Tex-Mex-style gordita. So in honor of Fiesta and thinking forward to Cinco de Mayo, I decided to make a batch.
You’ll see gorditas stuffed with a variety of proteins, such as taco meat, refried beans, and chili colorado—anything goes. So for mine I decided to use shredded chicken tossed in a simple tomato and jalapeño salsa. As for making the gorditas themselves, if you’ve made homemade tortillas you can make gorditas, as it’s basically the same process except you include a frying step at the end to make them puffy and crisp.
To serve, you simply slice in half the gordita and then stuff with the chicken, cheese, and vegetables. Then you take a bite, think of old San Antonio, and say to yourself you are so happy that spring is finally here.
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