Mexico is well known for it's street food, and sandwiches like this chorizo torta are one of the many delicious options you might find, and in this case also really easy to recreate at home. It has lots of flavor, is hearty enough to fill you up and easy to add your own tweaks, too.
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I've been a few places with fantastic street food over the years, including a number of places in Asia, but Mexico is definitely right up there as well. I have many happy memories being dazzled by the colorful fruits, hot bites and cool treats in the various towns I visited.
Some has made its way into the daily culture of many US cities through food trucks, which I am happy to indulge in sometimes. But while tacos and burritos have become popular, some other classic street foods are less common elsewhere, but just as worth trying.
Different types of Mexican street food
Around Mexico, you'll find street vendors lining the side of the street in markets, main squares as well as at transport hubs. Many vendors sell just a small range, but if they become known for doing something well, they can draw regular large crowds. It's always worth keeping an eye on where looks popular - it's usually for a reason!
Foods tends to fall into a few groups, with one being probably the best known, involving tortillas of some kind. These include tacos, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas and more, either as small bites or loaded up to make a meal.
Then you'll find snacks like tamales and prepared fruits and vegetables, like elote (street corn) and pieces of watermelon and mango on sticks, sometimes plain but often seasoned eg with chili.
For extra refreshment you'll find paletas (ice pops, like mango paletas) and drinks, especially cooling agua frescas (like agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea, pictured above), strawberry agua fresca and cantaloupe agua fresca).
Then there are tortas, often in stalls by themselves or sometimes as an alternative holder to fillings instead of tortillas. Unlike in mainland Spain where "torta" typically means a cake, in Mexico it generally means a sandwich.
But don't go thinking of a couple slices of bread with a tiny filling. These are usually rolls packed with at least a few fillings and often many. In some places, they are just as popular as tacos, but typically enjoyed for breakfast or lunch rather than dinner.
Origins of tortas in Mexico
In case you are thinking wheat is a non-native crop, you'd be right. Corn has an incredibly long history, being cultivated by the Aztecs who developed many uses for it, including tortillas. It has remained a core part of Mexican food culture, but wheat has made its way in there, too.
Wheat only arrived in Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors. To the conquistadors, bread was a staple food and so they brought seed from Spain to grow it locally. The general consensus is that a contemporary of Hernan Cortes first planted it in the early 16th century.
Then, bakeries started to appear in this early period of Spanish rule. But it's not entirely clear whether the torta evolved then or from a later French influence, after the French invaded Puebla in the mid 19th century, which led to 'pan dulce'.
Certainly some French influence is in tortas as they appear now as one of the types of bread most used for them is a bolillo which is like a small baguette-style roll (pictured above). The other typical bread is a telera, also a plain white roll but it is softer. It is also round with three mounds rather than the bolillo's longer torpedo shape with a single slashed top.
Typical torta fillings
Whatever the exact timing of the origin, tortas have become a staple. Some regions have a signature filling, as do some vendors. Then other fillings you'll find more widely. Cold fillings tend to be simpler, while hot fillings can be more elaborate.
Some popular fillings include tamales, pernil (slow cooked pork) and milanese (a breaded cutlet). Molletes are a variation on a torta that's popular for breakfast, made with refried beans, fresh salsa/pico de gallo and cheese.
In terms of regional fillings, in Mexico City, you'll find the Torta Cubana topped with pretty much everything you can think of including hot dog, ham, egg and chorizo. Then the torta ahogada from Guadalajara is filled with carnitas and refried beans then 'drowned' in a chili-tomato sauce.
At some stalls, you will typically always start with refried beans (or black beans) and end with cheese, then pick a protein of your choice, as well as additional garnishes. That's essentially what this sandwich is, and it's a great combination.
Preparing ahead to make this
This sandwich is easy to have the components made ahead and you can adapt to what you have, too. Both refried pinto and black beans will work here, whether homemade or you can use ready-made. If making your own, you can make it ahead and then just reheat when needed, adding a little liquid if it becomes dry.
Ready-prepared Mexican chorizo has become relatively widely available in the US at least, so do see if you can find it. If not, you can also make it yourself at home from ground pork, chilies, vinegar and other seasonings. Either way, you can cook a batch ahead, then store it in the fridge for a few days. Reheat some as needed in a skillet, both for this as well as tacos and more.
You can change the cheese to be one that melts like Oaxaca, or use a crumbly one like cotija, as in the pictures here. If you want to make things quicker, you can get ready-grated/crumbled. However starting with a block is better if you can to save having anti-caking additions.
This chorizo torta is a delicious combination of smooth beans, flavorful pork chorizo and cheese, plus whatever else you have and want to add. It's easy to make, adaptable and perfect as a satisfying lunch or snack.
Try these other tasty sandwiches:
- Eggplant spinach grilled cheese sandwich (has some spanakopita-like flavors and so tasty!)
- Spanish chorizo sandwich (easy to make, with peppers and cheese too)
- Traditional English tea sandwiches (perfect for a tea party, or just because, with a few choices in fillings)
- Plus get more Mexican recipes and lunch recipes in the archives.
- 3 tablespoon refried beans approx or a little more, or refried black beans
- 2 ½ oz Mexican chorizo approx - if in casing, remove from casing
- 1 bolillo roll or telera/small baguette-style roll
- 2 tablespoon cotija cheese approx - or use eg Oaxaca, see below
- ½ tomato
- optional additions: a few slices avocado, some shredded lettuce, pickled red onion slices
- Gently warm through the black beans and set aside. Warm a small skillet and cook the chorizo until cooked through with gently crisp edges.
- Split open the bread roll horizontally from side to side - ideally keep it attached on the one side. You can toast the roll until gently brown, or if you prefer, you can leave it un-toasted.
- Crumble the cheese and slice the tomato.
- Spread a layer of refried beans on the bottom half of the roll then top with the chorizo. Add the cheese and tomato slices on top, as well as any other toppings (avocado, lettuce and/or onions) then close up with the top half of the bread and serve.
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I first shared the recipe for Chorizo torta (Mexican sandwich) on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.