Tostada Vs. Memela: What's The Difference?

It's dinner time. You've had tacos, burritos, and an enchilada or two, but are looking for something a little different — something with texture and a bit of crunch. Quick: what are you having, a memela or a tostada? (Hint: there's no wrong answer).

Most Americans know the sheer perfection that is a tostada. The crispy, fried tortilla topped with lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and ground meat is known in some circles as a Mexican pizza. Fewer Americans are familiar with the Oaxacan street food memela, a puffy grilled tortilla slathered with tasty, savory morsels of nom nom deliciousness and topped off with a smattering of crumbly cheesy goodness.

While tostadas are always worth your time, consider adding memelas to your repertoire; the dish works well as an appetizer or as a light meal. Hahaha just kidding. As if you'll be able to stop at eating just one or two memelas. That's like saying you'll only have one taco. Does ANYONE eat just one taco?

What is a tostada?

Before we get into what a tostada is, let's talk about what a tostada isn't: a chalupa. The pillowy soft yet somehow still crunchy disk is shaped like a boat ("chalupa" translates to "boat" in Spanish). The curved shape allows the eater to slightly fold the disc and eat it like a taco.

A tostada, on the other hand, is flat and designed to hold up to the heartiest of ingredients. It's also a good way to use up some older tortillas (via Love Kitchen Today). Think of the tortilla as a plate on which you put your tasty slivers of food. Don't be afraid to pile 'em high — the crispy tortilla is sturdy, as frying reinforces the masa.

Traditional tostadas are made with beans, ground meat, shredded lettuce, and diced tomatoes, but think of the recipe as a starting point. Try tasty additions like avocado slices, a dollop of guacamole, onion, a sprinkle of elote, cilantro, or a bit of flavorful cheese like pepper jack or grate a bit of manchego.

What is a memela?

Memelas are a type of sopes that are made from a small bit of masa which is pressed into a tiny little edible bowl, fried, then filled with ingredients. While similar to tostadas, traditional sopes (and memelas) are thicker and more substantial.

For sopes, the masa flour is prepared by shaping the dough by hand, cooking it, and then arranging the edges towards the surface to form a slightly upturned shape. A traditional Oaxacan street food, memelas are generally cooked on a charcoal grill and then topped with a lush bit of salsa, crumbly flecks of cheese and tasty extras like potatoes or avocado.

Bon Appétit suggests adding a savory element like chorizo or rajas to your memelas, but feel free to experiment with your favorite ingredients or whatever you have on hand. This recipe from Epicurious acts as a good base to build your meal.

Tostadas and memelas: differences in preparaation

Tostadas shells are usually flat, thin, and crispy. Memela shells are a bit thicker and chewier (while still crispy), and most have a slight upward curve around the edges to better hold the ingredients. In general, tostada recipes call for some sort of paste or binding ingredient to allow the food to grip to the tortilla. The bindings typically include refried beans, but can also include guacamole or salsa.

Memelas, being thicker and slightly curved, don't necessarily need a binder to help ingredients stick to the bowl-like tortilla. Although you CAN add refried beans, the curved shape of memelas means you can toss almost any ingredient on it and the tortilla will "catch" it without rolling off. You can use the shape of memelas to your advantage by adding more meats and vegetable to the base, as you can ultimately fold the stack into itself a bit as you eat (via Taste Atlas).

How to eat a tostada

Before you begin eating a tostada, it's important that you make peace with a sobering reality: you will almost certainly get a good amount of food on your face. It's inevitable, and fighting the incoming wall of guac will only serve to diminish your enjoyment of the tostada. Your goal is to eat a tostada in the same way you would eat a slice of pizza, making sure to put down the tostada every few bites in order to re-evaluate your eating strategy (via The Tortilla Channel).

There's a very good chance you'll have to follow the "no two bites in the same place" method, as eating the crunchy food in a straight line (in any direction) will most likely result in a fallen and crumply tostada. Pause and eat errant tostada toppings with a knife and fork, or if you're feeling up to it, place 'em back on the tostada and give it another go.

How to eat a memela

While not as crumbly as tostadas, memelas can be eaten like a thicker, chewier taco. A knife and fork would probably get in the way here, so grab the memela and open wide — like you're eating an open-faced sandwich.

Like a taco, it's best to go in with domination as the end goal; take a few bites of the memela to get all of the goodness into your mouth, with no doubt. As the base isn't as crumbly as a tostada, you won't have to worry about bits of food falling on your lap, but that doesn't mean that you can get too comfy — inherent danger of spill is the best part of casual eating.

Tradition calls for spreading pork lard on a hot-off-the-grill memela shell, but vegetarians or those watching their fat intake can skip that step. Doing so will take away some of that umami goodness that only fat can provide, so be sure to add umami rich seasoning elsewhere to make up for it (via My Recipes).