Erielicious 5: Leave the tortilla, take the sope when cooking with Julio Reyes

Erie Times News
Erie Times News

So I started this project thinking I was a genius.

Not so much.

I was invited to Julius, the Mexican restaurant run by Julio Reyes in the old Maennerchor building 1607 State St., to cook anything I wanted.

I arrived ready with a plan. Julio also thought he was ready.

He asked what I wanted to make. Now you'd think in a Mexican restaurant, tortillas would be the easiest thing in the world. That's how Mexican food is eaten, right? Wrapped in a tortilla. Also, Reyes, now a friend, had once years ago scolded me for using store-bought sun-dried tomato-flavored tortillas for fish tacos, and that homemade were so much better. He said that if I was going to learn to make Mexican food, I'd need to learn how to make tortillas.

So, Reyes asked me what I wanted to make and I puffed up and proudly said "tortillas."

His face fell.

I was confused. I had thought it would be the easiest thing on Earth. As it turns out, making tortillas might be the most common food, the most basic recipe in corn flour and water, indeed the easiest thing on Earth — for a native Mexican. Apparently, it is not something you can teach a Midwestern American woman in an afternoon. There is a little of this and a little of that and you have to know the texture just from touching the dough and how to keep it dry enough to work with, but wet enough so that they hold together and the air temperature and humidity matters and the dough would have to be prepared hours before and allowed to rest.

My face fell.

We improvised. They had some blue-corn tortilla dough in the refrigerator. They could take it out and try to let it warm up enough to make not tortillas but little cakes called "sopes."

For those, who like me, who had no clue what a sope is (pronounced "SOH-pay"), the best thing I can compare it to is a 4-inch round pizza with a 1/4-inch thick crust of tortilla dough fried crisp and topped with whatever combination of Mexican toppings you like, such as cilantro, queso fresco, salsa, salsa verde, onion, peppers, olives, etc.

We could make those because the dough is thicker than a tortilla and can be molded easily using a tool that looks vaguely like one of those waffle makers they have at free hotel breakfasts. To make sopes, you need a smaller one. Basically, you place a roughly 1 1/2-inch ball of the masa (corn flour) dough on wax paper, lay it down in the flat, round bottom of the tool, cover it with another piece of wax paper, and grab the handle of the top part of the tool and press the dough into a round, 4-inch "cake" that you then fry lightly in a skillet.

I found the tool on It's called, wait for it, a "tortilla press." Exotic sounding, I know. They're about $20 and if you're going to make tortillas, in addition to years of experience learning the proper texture of the dough, you need one of these things.

So, as for the sopes, once they're fried and topped, I can see how they make wonderful comfort-food snacks that I will never make. Well, I won't say never, but a lot of corn flour and water would die horrible deaths if I tried just getting the dough just right. If I'm having a hankering for sopes, which I believe I am right now, I think I'm just going to go to Julius and order some.

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