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Quesadilla literally means ‘small cheese thing’. It’s a Mexican classic consisting of a wheat or corn tortilla that’s covered with cheese and other tasty toppings, folded in half, then baked on both sides in a pan. Usually, they’re served sliced with a side of salsa.

What is a quesadilla?

Quesadilla (pronounced: ‘kee-sa-DIE-ja’) literally means ‘little cheese thing’. This Mexican favourite consists of wheat or corn tortillas, covered with cheese and other ingredients, which are then folded in half and fried or roasted in a dry pan. They are served as slices, with a salsa sauce often served up alongside them. There are no rules when it comes to consuming this classic. 

The more southerly you venture in Mexico, the more complex the quesadilla becomes. In the middle of the country, you’ll find simple quesadilla recipes abound, with a little cheese and chilli the norm. Delve deeper south and you will happen upon quesadilla recipes loaded with potato and chorizo, with stir-fried zucchini, onion and garlic also present. And then of course there’s the cheese. It’s the cheese element that connects all quesadilla recipes. Cheese-free quesadillas are a rare thing indeed, with Mexico City perhaps the only place where you’ll find them easily. 

Quesadillas are the street food staple of Mexico City. From street carts and market stalls, freshly made tortillas are filled and baked on the hot plate for legions of hungry customers. Sometimes, the filling is not folded within the tortillas, but cooked directly into the dough of the tortilla itself before being fried. 

Did you know

The quesadilla is an early example of fusion cooking. Mexicans had been consuming tortillas from locally grown corn for a long time, but they were only enhanced with cheese and other dairy products when the Spanish arrived to colonise in the sixteenth century. Meats like beef, pork and chicken also arrived on the culinary scene at the same time, with lettuce, rice and potatoes also being introduced. 

How to make quesadillas

First, fresh tortillas are pressed from balls of corn dough and baked on a hot plate. A filling of your choice is then placed on one half of the tortilla, with a healthy layer of cheese applied. Mexican cheeses are ideal as they melt particularly well. The tortilla is then folded and closed, before being baked until golden brown on both sides.

How to eat

In Mexico, eat your quesadilla piping hot, straight from the pan with a little salsa of your choice. 

Difference between burrito and quesadilla

Both burritos and quesadillas are popular Mexican dishes made with tortillas, but there are some key differences in their assembly, size, and shape. While burritos are made by folding a tortilla around a filling (often a combo of refried beans, cheese, veggies, and meat) and eaten handheld, quesadillas are made by filling a tortilla with cheese and other fillings, folding it in half, and toasting it until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is crispy. It’s then often cut into sections like a pizza and served on a plate.

Also try

Fond of cheese? Just as the quesadilla is a variation on a plain cheese sandwich, Greek saganaki is a twist on the cheese soufflé. 

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