Latin Americanists particularly associate the word with the cuisines in the hemisphere’s Spanish-speaking cultures of:
• Caribbean islands;
• Insular and mainland Central and South America;
• Southernmost and southwestern North America.
The term comes from the Spanish addition of the feminine singular ending –illa (“dear, little, small”) to the feminine singular noun torta (“cake”). But it describes the same culinary item as the earlier designation tlaxcalli (flat maize bread) from the pre-existing Nahuatl language of central Mexico’s ancient Aztec culture. The maize-floured bread of today still honors in its most basic form ancient recipes that combine ground corn with water to make masa (dough) for heating and serving.
Its creation myth makes for fascinating reading in “The First Tortilla.”