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Food & Drink

Get a Sneak Peek of the Indigenous Food Lab—Plus Fresh Tortillas—This Week at Midtown Global Market

The market/restaurant/education center will begin its multiphase opening in about a month.

left: eight colorful tortillas—red, blue, and yellow—sit on a piece of parchment paper. Right: A woman stands next to nixtamalization equipment in a kitchen.
Provided / Em Cassel|

Left: colorful tortillas from the Indigenous Food Lab’s nixtamal team. Right: team leader Laura Garcia.

Laura Garcia is on a quest for the perfect the tortilla.

Growing up in Mexico City, it was something she never would have made from scratch—delicious, fresh tortillas were everywhere. "[We'd] go to the store and buy tortillas, never make tortillas," she laughs. "I'd never done it in my life!"

But when she joined the Indigenous Food Lab, Sean Sherman—the groundbreaking, James Beard award-winning Owamni chef who also leads the nonprofit kitchen/training center—gave her a challenge.

"It started with Sean. Sean told me, 'You need to figure out how to make the best tortillas,'" Garcia explains. "So, every day I try to figure out better and better tortillas."

The tortillas were to be made by hand using traditional, pre-colonial methods. As the leader of the Food Lab's nixtamalization program, which focuses on traditional maize preparation from Mexico and Central America, Garcia began experimenting with lime solutions, corn ratios, and temperatures. Her experimentation paid off: At Owamni, the tacos are served on nixtamalized blue and yellow corn tortillas purchased from the nonprofit.

Beginning this week, you won't need a reservation at the highly lauded, temporarily closed restaurant to take in some flavors from the Indigenous Food Lab. As a preview of their forthcoming market and restaurant at Midtown Global Market (920 E. Lake St., Suite 109), the team will be selling tortillas weekly from Tuesday to Friday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until sellout) inside MGM. You can order tortillas and fresh masa online, or just swing by the market and order in person (though note that they can only accept credit card payments at this time).

Made with stone-ground, organic corn, the fresh tortillas are vegan, gluten-free, and dairy free. Every one is made from scratch by Garcia and the rest of the Indigenous Food Lab's nixtamal team. "I call it rainbow tortillas—sometimes I make it zebra, or sometimes four or five colors in one tortilla," Garcia says, adding that the colorful tortillas are good in the fridge for about a week, and frozen, they can last up to two months.

Garcia says she can't wait to sell her tortillas directly to people, and it's perhaps equally exciting for the folks who work at the market and regularly smell fresh tortillas wafting through their building.

"When I cook tortillas right here, at this side," Garcia says, gesturing to the corridor of Midtown Global Market that winds past their kitchen, "the people come and say, 'When will you sell tortillas? You sell tortillas?'"

It won't be long before the rest of the Indigenous Food Lab is up and running, too. The market is set to open in June, they'll roll out hot food and tea programs shortly after, and the educational component will eventually follow. Keep an eye on their social channels for updates.

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