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The Mexican Comal: Traditional Aztec Griddles

mexican comal over an open fire with tortillas

Mexican food is famous throughout the world and no wonder, considering it has such a rich and long culinary heritage. Mexican cuisine has a blend of indigenous and Spanish influences with unique ingredients and cooking techniques, giving this cuisine a distinct taste comparable to no other in the world. The preparation of this fare also employ unique cooking tools such as the Molcajete (a lava stone mortar and pestle), the Matate (a lava stone “table” for grinding corn and spices) and the Comal.

What is a Comal?

Simply put, a Comal is a griddle with a flat and smooth surface native to Mexico and Central America. A Comal is primarily used for cooking tortillas, as well as, for roasting vegetables and spices. Comals traditionally are placed on top of three or four stones for support, allowing a fire to be built underneath to heat the Comal. Of course, today most Comals are made of metal, and are placed on gas burners or stovetops, but the idea is the same.

Origins of Mexican Comal

As its Aztec name (comalli) suggests, the Comal has its roots in Mexico since ancient times. The Aztecs used the Comal to char ingredients due to the added flavor it would lend to whatever was being cooked. The Comal became quintessential in the cooking of tortillas, which became a stable in the cuisine, and quickly spread down to the rest of Central America and parts of northern South America. Since then, the Comal has long become an essential utensil in Mexican Cuisine and found in most Mexican households. In fact, since they become seasoned over the years, some Comals are handed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms.

Mexican Clay Comal by Ancient Cookware
Mexican Clay Comal by Ancient Cookware

The Mexican Clay Comal

Originally Comals were made with natural untreated clay, like the ones sold at AncientCookware.com. A Mexican Clay Comal, locally known as a comal de barro, is coveted by cooks for their slow heat distribution and retention. It is also the is the choice of exacting pallets since a well-seasoned Comal gives food an extra hint of flavor you can't get any other way!

About the Mexican Clay Comal

There are many ways by which this traditional clay cookware can be used. Some of its most common applications include roasting vegetables, toasting spices, and preparing tortillas. It is also used for searing meat and preparing quesadillas. The applications can be endless, limited only by what one wants to cook.

Food Grade Lime is an inorganic compound of calcium hydroxide which is produced by heating limestone. It goes by many names including edible lime, dry lime, pickling lime and in Spanish, Cal. It is used widely in many applications such as additives in tortilla flour, for making hominy, used in home brewing, and in the pickling process. In Mexico and South America, it has been widely used for millennia to process corn, which after being soaked in water and lime, it loosens the kernels of corn from the husks. After the corn is treated in this way, it can be dried and ground into a corn flour such as "Masa Harina." Food Grade Lime is available in the canning section of many grocery stores or on on-line canning suppliers.

Before using the Mexican Clay Comal, it is important to have it seasoned, which prevents the food from sticking to the surface as it is cooked. To season the Comal, it is slowly heated starting on low heat and slowly the temperature is increased. Using a combination of water and Pickling Lime (aka: CAL or Food Grade Lime), the mixture is spread on the surface of the Comal using a brush. The Comal is then heated until the lime on the Comal hardens. Once the Comal has cooled down, it is rinsed and ready to be used.

One important thing to note when using a Mexican Clay Comal is that it is very fragile, and hence, proper handling and care will be necessary. It must be handle with caution and clean it regularly. In order to keep it from growing mold, it must be stored in a cool and dry place making sure it is clean and thoroughly dry prior to storing. While using a Comal, metal utensils should not be used as it can scratch the surface. Make sure that temperature adjustments when using the Comal is done gradually, because as with any Clay Cookware, abrupt changes in heat can cause it to crack.

The Mexican Metal Comal

Mexican Carbon Steel Comal by Ancient Cookware
Mexican Carbon Steel Comal by Ancient Cookware

Some people prefer the Metal Comals, specifically Carbon Steel Comals, like the ones sold at AncientCooware.com because they are more practical than Earthenware Comals. They are certainly lighter, and have the advantage of not being fragile, and lasting forever with the proper care. Carbon Steel Comals, like cast iron skillets, becomes seasoned over time and lend the foods cooked on them little extra hint of flavor. In contrast, modern nonstick skillets lend nothing to the food. The dry roasting of ingredients on a hot Comal builds layers of flavors with the charred skins of the vegetables adding extra flavors.

Using the Carbon Steel Comal

A Carbon Steel Comal is perfect for roasting vegetables & chilies, as well as for making quesadillas. Street vendors in Mexico are often seen making quesadillas on HUGE Carbon Steel Comals.

Much like a cast iron skillet or a wok, a Carbon Steel Comal needs to be seasoned before use. After washing it for the first time, the Comal needs to be covered with a generous coating of oil, and placed on high heat for about 30 minutes. As the oil begins to heat and burn, it will also darken the Comal and make it ready for use. The seasoning process will require the oil to burn at a high temperature which creates smoke, so the process is always done where there is adequate ventilation such as with an open window or an appropriate kitchen hood.

The Comal is heated by simply placing it over a heat source to bring it up the desired temperature. The Carbon Steel Comal, including the handles, can get very hot, so care should be taken when handling. It is best to let it cool before attempting to move it.

A Carbon Steel Comal is very easy to take care of, however, if not cared for properly, IT WILL RUST. It must be cleaned after each use and dried by heating to ensure that all moisture has evaporated. After heated and cooled, the Comal must be coated with a thin film of oil covering the entire surface to prevent rusting. It should never be left to air dry. If rust ever does appear, the Comal can be restored by simply being washed with hot water then removing any traces of rust using steel wool if necessary. The Comal is then re-seasoned will be good as new.

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Paying a Visit to the Plaza Minorista

plaza minorista in medellin colombia

Paying a Visit to Plaza Minorista – Medellin, Colombia

Situated northwest of the country’s capital of Bogota, Medellin is a city known for its vibrant atmosphere, lively plazas, and beautiful fertile mountainous surroundings. Medellin is also Colombia’s second largest city.

One of the jewels of the city is the Plaza Minorista – a massive commercial market located right downtown. It boasts everything from fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables to shoes, clothing and almost anything else in between. Of course, our draw to the market was the food, both prepared and unprepared.

Beautifully Arranged Fruits
Beautifully Arranged Fruits

During our last visit to Colombia to buy the beautiful Black Clay, La Chamba Cookware carried at Ancient Cookware, we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the market and wander through the endless isles of stalls. Seeing the boundless array of ingredients as we made our way through Plaza Minorista, we were inspired and were eager to get back home to try out some recipe

It is hard to pin point what exactly makes this one of the best plazas in town, but it was certainly one of the many highlights of our trip. In fact, we loved it so much that we wanted to share with you the following information that will hopefully prove to be useful the next time you find yourself in Medellin, Colombia.

Brief History

Since 1894, plazas have been a part of the weekly routines of the locals in this part of the world. Since the opening of Plaza de Flores in Buenos Aires, plazas have served not only as a time to purchase groceries for the rest of the week, but also as a very social and cultural tradition. Plaza Minorista was established in 1984 for the purpose of removing vendors from the street. It now serves as a fantastic place to purchase goods and handicrafts of all kinds for both the locals and the city’s visiting tourists

The Stalls

Vegetable stall in the Plaza Minorista
Vegetable stall in the Plaza Minorista

There are over 2,500 stalls at Plaza Minorista; meaning that you certainly won’t be in any shortage of goods! The market has two floors, each divided into sections.

One such section features fruits and vegetables, so fresh you can even smell the fresh dirt on root vegetables. All locally grown, the fruits and vegetables are neatly stacked and arranged. Many of the items offered are not common in the US. There is an entire section for Bananas and Plantain, a staple of the Colombia Diet, and another section for beans and root vegetables.

red bellied piranhas for sale in the plaza minorista
Red Bellied Piranhas for sale

There are also sections for meats, poultry and fish, which are definitely not for the squeamish at heart. Animal carcasses hang behind counters and are butchered right before your eyes. The poultry sections has live animals. The fish stall offers all kinds of delicacies, including fresh water fish, some from the Amazonian rain forests.

Another great section contains lacteous products, cheeses and eggs. Different stalls offer a great selection of locally produced aged and fresh cheeses. Originally established to feed the workers of the Plaza, in the back of the second floor is a section with prepared food stalls. When we were there we had Sancocho de Bagre, or fresh water catfish soup. The fish is cooked along with potatoes, yucca, and plantains, with its richness coming from the coconut milk (see the recipe on our recipe section). It is said that there is nothing better for a hangover than Sancocho de Bagre. If it is your first time visiting a market or plaza like that of Minorista, you may want to allow plenty of time to see as many stalls as possible. The people the work at the plaza are typically friendly and ready to help answer any questions you may have, which makes the experience all the better!

Location & Hours

Plaza Minorista can easily be reached by public transportation taking advantage of either a taxi or the metro – getting off at the Estacion Prado stop and heading a few blocks east where you will eventually come to a grand brick entrance. The hours of the plaza are Monday thru Saturday from 4:30am to 6pm and Sundays 4:30am to 3pm. We hope you’ll have just as much fun paying a visit to Plaza Minorista as we did!

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Ancient Cookware Announces Brazilian Soapstone

 
press release - miami florida Oct 10, 2016
“After years of looking for artisans with the ability of producing products with our quality control, we have finally been able to contract artisans that can make these unique and beautiful products that reflect the Brazilian cooking culture at its best.”
oscar garcia, president

In recent years the art of cooking has really come into its own and appreciated on a level never seen before in history. So much of its popularity comes from cooking and travel channels that highlight not only global tastes, but cultures and styles of cooking. Ancient Cookware is a provider of global cooking utensils that seeks to highlight the best tools from around the world. This month the company launches its line of Brazilian cookware that is as beautiful as it is functional.

"After years of looking for artisans with the ability of producing products with our quality control, we have finally been able to contract artisans that can make these unique and beautiful products that reflect the Brazilian cooking culture at its best,” says company President Oscar Garcia."

Brazilian Soapstone pots, or Panelas de Pedra Capixaba have a long history in Brazil’s culinary tradition and are used by restaurants all over the country because of the stone’s heat retention ability and even distribution of temperature. Made from a single piece of soapstone, these pots can even hold temperature of hot oil even after items are added to it. The pieces are decorated with a thin copper band bearing the Ancient Cookware brand that helps to highlight the natural beauty of the stone.

Also offered in the company’s Brazilian product line are Clay Stew Pots which undoubtedly are one of the most significant representations of the culture of the Brazilian State of Espírito Santo. The clay pots, known as Panelas de Barro Capixaba, have been made for centuries by the indigenous people that inhabited the coastal regions long before the European colonization of Brazil began in 1500. Today, Ancient Cookware artisans use similar techniques and raw materials, however, they are molded to produce uniform sizes and shaped, and are kiln dried which makes them harder and more resilient.

Other items in the Brazilian collection include wooden cooking tools and serving bowls.

To learn more about Ancient Cookware, visit the website at www.AncientCookware.com or contact Oscar Garcia at 1-855-586-0070, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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New E-Commerce Site Provides Access to Unique Cooking Tools

 
press release - miami florida nov 18, 2014

Website Launch Offers Unique and Authentic Cooking Tools From Around The World

“Many of these kitchen products are healthier options for cooking at home. For example, cooking in unglazed clay pots is a completely natural way to prepare meals without any added products or chemicals.”
oscar garcia, president

Passionate travelers and cooks at Ancient Cookware have offered their products through third-party websites since 2009, but this Fall they have launched their own platform to exhibit their exclusive collection of gadgets from around the world. Many of the products gathered on the site are genuine ethnic tools that are hard to find or unavailable anywhere else, giving Ancient Cookware customers access to devices they will not find elsewhere.

“Many of these kitchen products are healthier options for cooking at home” states Ancient Cookware owner and President, Oscar Garcia. “For example, cooking in unglazed clay pots is a completely natural way to prepare meals without any added products or chemicals.” Tools include handmade items such as Black Clay, La Chamba Cookware from Colombia, lead free Clay Mexican Cazuelas, and Spanish Clay Cazuelas from Pereruela.

Ancient Cookware has traveled to 67 countries so far, and they strive to help the local artisans by providing them with a new market and the ability to sell their products to customers they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own. “It gives us a great sense of satisfaction knowing that by providing these artisans a worldwide outlet for their products gives them the opportunity of a better life.” says Garcia. They aim to not only respect the local artisans, but to also supply quality products to their customers.

The Ancient Cookware site has more than just products, they also supply tips on caring for the cookware, recipes that use the items, and information on how the products are made (and by whom). They also stock some hard-to-get ingredients to help you in making authentic homemade dishes.

To learn more about Ancient Cookware, visit the website at www.AncientCookware.com or contact Oscar Garcia at 1-855-586-0070, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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