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You can make your own masa via the process described by bozon, or you can buy preground masa at the store. If you live in an area without many latinoamericanos (such as, say, England) then you may be S.O.L. and have to make it from corn.

I have seen two types of masa available in stores: dry and wet. The wet is nice if you're about to do a lot of cooking, like if you were going to make 30 or 40 tamales at a time. For cooking small amounts of food (pupusas for 2, a couple tamales, etc.) the dry mix is easier, as it takes up less storage space and it keeps longer. The one thing to be careful of with the dry mix is that you need to pay attention to how much water you add. But, since you'll have your hands on it and in it while you are preparing whatever, it's not hard to keep track of the moisture.

Masa is a type of puffy pancake from northern Nigeria. It is made by frying a rice paste made of:

Rice,
Yeast (optional),
Sugar (optional and to taste),
Salt
Cooking potash.

I think it is the only sweet main dish in our food. And even then, it is often eaten with a savory sauce, soup or stew. Like most dishes, it can be eaten at any time of the day. When I eat it for breakfast, I like to combine it with runny fried eggs, ground pepper powder and honey. Everyone thinks my combination is disgusting but I think they are just closed minded, unadventurous bigots. Considering how popular cooking shows are here, and how chefs combine all sorts of ingredients, I'd think my inventiveness ought to be commended.

The shape is like an M&M, only larger. There are usually 3 sizes. A small size about 3-4 inches across, a larger one about 5 inches across and the largest one can be up to 10 inches. All 3 can be called masa or waina. But traditionally the smallest one used to be called waina, while the middle is called masa. The largest is called sinasir and that term is never used for the other 2. Sinasir is traditionally a Kanuri food. The serving size for waina is usually more than 5, for masa it is between 3 and 5 and for sinasir rarely more than 2. A good masa is soft but a bit springy. If kept in the fridge, it can be heated either in a microwave or steamed before serving.

There are similar foods from India even though I think each region developed its own separately.

This link shows sinasir at the top right and masa below it in the gridle used to fry it. The depressions in the gridle are lightly oiled, and the paste is poured in. When one side is done, it is turned over.

As I said, it can be eaten for any meal. If eaten for breakfast, it is accompanied by sauce or sugar or honey. For lunch, usually just sauce and for dinner with grilled meat or sauce. It is common at street side barbecues which are all over the country, usually run by northerners.

Iron Noder 2020, 16/30

I feel that corrections and updates to a 20 year old writeup are in order. Specifically, bozon’s. Why? Because the information presented there is incomplete and partially incorrect.

There used to be a writeup, a bit over 20 years old, by user bozon. It described “masa; or masa trigo” as a dough made from corn kernels to make tortillas. This writeup was written originally as a correction and update on it, but the powers that be have decided to remove it and were kind enough to let me know so as to amend my own writeup and avoid some embarrassment.

The Spanish word “masa” directly translates to “dough” purely in the culinary sense. That’s it. “Masa” is the generic term for several things that will be cooked through some baking or frying or griddling (?) process; including cookies, cakes, bread and—of course—tortillas. It’s not restricted to the last one.

So, why does bozon mention it? I’m not bozon, so what follows is a guess. Generally speaking, because that’s the way it’s usually understood from context in places—like Mexico—where tortillas and related products are consumed heavily. If I mention buying Maseca, it’s understood that I’m about to make tortillas, much in the same way it’s understood that I’m making soup if I mention “a can of Campbell’s.”

That doesn’t mean “masa” is used exclusively for tortillas. “Masa,” without context, can mean a number of somewhat similar, but ultimately different things. Repeat that to yourself.


Why make a fuss about it?

Among the many mistakes we can make, one of the most common ones is the taxonomist’s trap: thinking that knowing the name of a thing makes us know about the thing itself.

The distinction is subtle and can sneak in on us everywhere. Across cultures, this sometimes ends up as tourists and foreigners in general thinking they know something because they know the word for it. And this, believe it or not, is a small and traceable component in what some people call cultural (mis-)appropriation and condescending attitudes that reek of colonialism.

If you’re eating at a fonda—a traditional restaurant of sorts—you will hear the word “masa”, will see tortillas in front of you and can easily make the connection between the word and the food. But if you’re shopping in a bakery you will also hear the word, but this time associated to baguettes, pastries and other baked goods. Which is correct? The stereotypical gringo1 will dismiss the nuances of language and instead cement the “masa=tortilla” connection; a more conscious traveler will expand the concept and learn a bit more about language and culture at the same time.

So, why make a fuss about it? When I went to London, I ate kebabs almost exclusively every night. Does that mean there’s no fish and chips anywhere in the city? Does the calm streets around the Barbican Centre reflect an easy-going life there?

We’re living in the most connected times of our species. While physical travel throughout the world is still mostly a privilege for the few, the internet is a great help to bridge lots of differences2 of language, culture and distance among others.

This should be kept in mind when approaching other cultures, other countries, other languages than our own. It’s always been impossible to completely understand another, but the large availability of information should keep us humble and vigilant to the fact that knowing culture comes only with extensive experience and patience. First hand experiences are great and leave a mark on our memories, but they run the risk of being incomplete. I’d bet that more often than not, they will be.


Why then, adopt this almost attack on bozon’s writeup? Mostly, to be a cautionary tale. While I don’t think the writeup was made in bad faith, it shows grave mMistakes of language and culture that, as discussed, can slip through one’s mind and that may lead to faux pas-es in the best of cases, and misappropriation in the worst.

Still think I’m being harsh? Consider that:

  1. The term “masa trigo,”—that appeared in a now deleted writeup—while understandable, it’s not precisely what all Spanish speakers would use. My guess is that this is a machine-translated phrase, because the more “standard” term would be “masa [de] trigo”; and
  2. The term “masa [de] trigo” translates to “wheat dough” and not “corn dough”; a fact that your nearest Spanish-English dictionary can attest. While both plants can be used to make flatbreads, their results are vastly different, to the extent that the products are known as “corn tortillas” and “flour tortillas.”3 “Masa [de] trigo” cannot possibly be made out of corn kernels.

🜞⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️
  1. Also a caricature of real life.

  2. Sadly, it’s not sufficient for completely eliminating them.

  3. In Spanish, “Tortillas de maíz” and “Tortillas de harina,” respectively. The name comes from the fact that the regular tortillas aren’t traditionally made with any “corn flour,” but with nixtamalized corn, which is most decidedly not a dry ingredient.

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