Tostada (pronounced /tɒˈstɑːdə/ or /toʊˈstɑːdə/) is a Spanish word which literally means "toasted". It is used in Latin America to name several different traditional local dishes which only have in common the fact they are toasted or uses a toasted ingredient as the main base of its preparation. Note there's a gender difference between "tostada" (feminine) and "tostado" (masculine). Despite the fact both terms means exactly the same (toasted), tostado is used in reference of a specific degree of toast, (coffee, roasted grains and seeds or bread toast) while tostada is usually the name of a particular dish.
In Mexico it refers to a flat or bowl-shaped (like a bread bowl) tortilla that is toasted or deep fried. It also refers to the finished dish using a tostada as a base. It is consumed alone, as a salty snack known as totopo, (nachos, in Tex-Mex cuisine), or used a base for other foods. Corn tortillas are the ones usually used to make tostadas, although in some regions it is possible, but rare, find tostadas made of wheat flour.
Tostada initially has its origin in the need to avoid waste when tortillas went stale, no longer fresh enough to be rolled into tacos, but still fresh enough to eat. The old tortilla is submersed into boiling oil until becomes golden, rigid and crunchy, like a traditional slice of toast bread (hence the reason of its name). Then is served alone as companion for different kinds of Mexican food, mostly seafood, and spicy stews, such as Menudo, Birria and Pozole. This last one is usually accompanied with tostadas dipped in acidified cream.
An extremely popular way to eat tostadas in Mexico is as a dish of its own. Beans, cheese, acidified cream, chopped lettuce, sliced onions and salsa are spread onto the tostadas like an "open faced" rigid taco, mostly like a pizza. Then is finally topped with the main ingredient, usually meat cooked and chopped specially to dress the tostada. In most cases, is cooked chicken meat or pork. The "Tostada de Pata" (chopped pork fingers in conserve) has become an icon of Mexican tostadas, and it is found in almost every place where tostadas are prepared. As a general rule, due to the flat and fragile body of the tostada, the main topping must be sticky or pasty enough to stay on top. This helps prevent the other toppings or garnishes from falling off while it's being eaten, although due its natural fragility, tostadas have the tendency to break noisily when eaten.
In addition to ingredients typically used as taco fillings, tostadas are also extremely popular topped with seafood, such as cooked tuna, shrimp, crab, chopped octopus and ceviche or as companion for spicy shrimp stew. Vegetarian tostadas only topped with vegetables, are a bit rare, since vegetables are considered only the staples used as a bed for the main ingredient.
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