Illustration by David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star

It’s been a while since we’re touched on one of my favorite subjects – food, so let’s take a look at a true regional specialty: enchiladas chatas sonorenses or Sonoran flat enchiladas. These are not to be confused with the flat or stacked enchiladas one can find in New Mexico and some places in Arizona, which are basically sauce-soaked tortillas stacked up with a filling – cheese or whatever – between them. Those are good eating indeed, but they are not what I’m writing about today.

“Enchilada” simply means something soaked in chile, and these enchiladas fill that bill readily. They are flat cakes of masa, sometimes with chile, cheese, white flour or grated potatoes mixed in, which are then fried and covered with red chile sauce. They can then be garnished with cheese, chopped olives, shredded lettuce, or chopped green onions. They appear on a lot of restaurant menus as “flat” or “Sonoran style” enchiladas.

They are similar to the fried masa cakes in other parts of Mexico called sopes, and to others called chalupas, but these are usually molded with a little rim to hold beans or other goodies.

My Tucson contemporaries tell me that, when they were growing up, any enchiladas prepared at home were Sonoran style. Over and over again, I hear that they first encountered rolled enchiladas when they went to local Mexican restaurants.

Incidentally, when I was googling around for this article, I encountered a lot of requests for the history of the enchilada – who invented the dish, where did it originate. You might as well ask for the history of the taco. (The history of the sandwich is easier; the 18th–Century Earl of Sandwich had his club prepare slices of beef between two slices of bread, so he wouldn’t have to leave the gambling table if he got hungry during an exciting game. The bread supposedly kept him from getting his fingers - and the cards - greasy. The dish doubtless existed long before that.)

However, nobody in Mexico was taking notes concerning what poor folks were eating, and the rolled enchilada is a no-brainer. The Sonoran enchilada is equally lost in the mists of popular culture. But it sure does eat easy!