Photo by Todd Cooper

The Real Deal

Nourishing Traditions at Tortilleria el Matate

On a recent mid-week afternoon, the dozen people who drove up to Tortilleria el Metate’s storefront along Main Street in Springfield were greeted with a sign on the door stating: “No hay tortillas.” No tortillas today.

“We ran out,” says Elda Galvan, the daughter of Nelly and Agustin Galvan, the store’s owners. Plank Town Brewing Co. nearby and other local restaurants placed a large order that morning, and the Galvans didn’t have enough fresh handmade flour and corn tortillas to spare.

Agustin Galvan, from Guadalajara, is 78, and Nelly Galvan, from Mexicali, is 74. They “retired” about 15 years ago, after closing their tortilleria in New Mexico and moving to Southern California to be near Elda and another daughter. It was there, about 12 years ago, that they heard about a movement of Hispanics and Latinos to the Pacific Northwest.

“My dad still had the tortilla machine, so we thought this would be a good place to open our tortilla bakery again,” Elda Galvan says. The three visited towns from Yakima to Springfield and liked Springfield the best. They opened Tortilleria el Metate in 2004.

The Galvans make up to 200 kilos (441 pounds) of corn tortillas a day, and Nelly uses her family’s generations-old recipe to make about 25-dozen flour tortillas each week.

They also sell Mexican cheeses such as queso botanero, with cilantro and jalapenos, and requeson, like ricotta. Tubs of fresh, handmade salsa in both red and green varieties are available for only $2.50 for 8 ounces or $4 for 16 ounces. Here you will also find bags of dried New Mexico chili peppers and cornhusks for tamales.

In the Latino community, it’s common for each person to eat one or two tortillas with every meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner. Elda says that if they run out, their customers would rather do without tortillas than buy from a grocery store.

Agustin demonstrates that his tortillas aren’t like store-bought varieties by squeezing one in his strong hand and then opening his fist. “It’s still good,” he says with pride. His tortilla springs back into its round shape, whereas a store-bought tortilla would simply break and crumble.

“We’ve been fortunate to be welcomed by the Latino community,” Elda Galvan says. “It took a while for the Anglo customers to learn what fresh tortillas are all about, but now we have regulars who come in every week.”

Even people who live here and visit Mexico take the Galvan’s tortillas back home with them. Nelly Galvan begins writing down a list of a dozen countries around the world, from Canada to Latvia, where people have taken her tortillas home. “That makes me proud,” Nelly Galvan says with a beaming smile.

“People love our tortillas because we don’t use any preservatives,” Elda Galvan says. “What you taste is corn. It’s a perfect marriage because it’s a Mexican machine and raw ingredients from the U.S. The ingredients here are even better than what we can get at home in Mexico, so people tell us that we have the best tortillas. Even better than what they would get back home.”

Tortilleria el Metate is at 1124 Main Street in Springfield. Call ahead to order tortillas for events such as weddings or quinceañeras, or just to make sure they haven’t run out. 541-747-8384.