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Food anthropology experts believe that bread, as we know it today, derives from what was originally a mix of flours blended with water and left to bake in the sun or on top of a scorching hot surface. Nothing could be more similar to the earliest forms of bread than piadina and tortilla: while they are similar in concept, they have different histories and tastes. Both of them made their first appearance on the streets and are considered to be a perfect example of pop and street food. They are both exalted by their accompanying ingredients, but this is where their similarities end.
What is the difference between piadina and tortilla?
Origin. The two specialties are miles apart, not only in terms of kilometers but also because they represent two vastly different worlds.
In Italy there is a saying that goes: “Don’t call it piadina if it’s not made in Romagna”, this being a small geographical area of northern Italy facing the Adriatic Sea. It comprises part of Bologna province and the provincial districts of Rimini, Ravenna and Forlì-Cesena. Together with Emilia this is one of the most important food districts in the world. The people of Romagna are so proud of their local specialty that they applied for and obtained PGI (Protected Geographical Application) for its two versions in 2014: the so-called Piadina Terre di Romagna and the Piadina Romagnola di Rimini.
Tortillas originally came from Mexico before becoming a staple food of all Latin American countries. According to a Maya legend, they were invented by a peasant for his hungry king and the first tortillas apparently date back to around 10,000 BC, when they were made from maize. The piadina comes from a tiny area but is well known worldwide. The tortilla is made in vast regions and is one of the most popular “bread” varieties of all.
Flour. The ideal flour for making piadina is 0-type or 00-type wheat flour. When poverty was rife, people used to make what was known as the pjida armescla (mixed piadina) by mixing maize and wheat flours, also called the pjida ad furmantoun (maize flour piadina), a food that was associated with hard times.
The original tortilla recipe, according to the Mexican tradition, requires a special flour called masa harina, or maize flour. This is a husked and pre-cooked flour which is also gluten-free for the joy of those who suffer from this type of food intolerance.
Fats. The authentic piadina contains animal fat in the form of lard. This was what the azdora or housewife normally had in her larder. She used to knead the piadina dough using flour, water, salt, and lard. Le Mariette di Casa Artusi, an association set up to safeguard original recipes of the Italian culinary tradition, even indicate a particular type of lard as being the best, that obtained from the Mora di Romagna, an autochthonous breed of pigs. Nowadays, it is quite common to come across versions of piadina containing butter or olive oil, but not in its area of origin.
On the other hand, no fat is added to the tortilla, either to its dough or during cooking.
Yeast. No yeast is needed to make tortilla, but a pinch of bicarbonate of (baking) soda (4 g per 500 g of flour) is added to piadina dough. However, this innovation dates back to the 30s and was unheard of before then.
Diameter, thickness and techniques. Once the azdora has prepared the dough, it is set aside to rest, in the form of numerous little buns. Even today, the piadinas are rolled out into disks or piade of about 25-30 cm in diameter using a rolling pin. They may vary in thickness, from 2 to 5 millimetres, according to where they are made. They rise when cooked.
Tortillas are flattened, either using a special machine, or by pressing the ball of dough between two sheets of greaseproof paper with a plate. They are smaller in diameter than the piadina and are never thicker than 4 mm.
Piadina and tortilla recipes
Owing to the addition of fat to the dough, the piadina is tastier and crumblier than the tortilla, which is doughier and lighter on the palate. Both tend to have a somewhat neutral taste, which makes them ideal for accompanying other ingredients or for being filled, in the same way as bread.
The piadina is served with other single ingredients rather than cooked foods, unlike tortilla which accompanies proper dishes. The most traditional version of piadina comes with a filling of raw ham, squacquerone cheese and rocket leaves. A gourmet piadina may even stretch to fish and crustaceans, but the people born and bred in Romagna like it best with local cold cuts and cheeses.
When a tortilla is filled with something, its name changes. This is why Mexican food can seem confusing at first. A classical tortilla filling is the one with chicken breast, peppers and spices: in this case it is called fajitas. Minced beef, beans, vegetables and a hot spicy sauce are the filling ingredients of the famous burritos. They become quesadillas when the filling ingredients comprise cheese.
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