TikTok pushes quesadillas beyond Mexican food

Rudy Serrano's Spam Wrap

Rudy Serrano’s Spam Wrap

Since the second week of January, San Diegans noticed a shortage of giant-sized tortillas. The anomaly is partly due to the TikTok app, and its 3 billion and counting #tortillatrend hashtagged video views. It seems post-millennials and millennials, who make up more than 50 percent of the video-sharing app, are hoarding the near 20-inch flour and lard burrito-tortillas, then grilling them with cheese and, often, leftovers, inside.

Serrano posted a video on his TikTok, backed with the “Spam” country song by Muddy Boots and the Porch Pounders.

“People are scooping them up because of the challenge,” corroborated Rudy Serrano on January 25, “but I found some at Food Bowl Market and Deli.”

Serrano cooks at the Big Kitchen cafe on Grape Street in South Park, a half a mile north of the Cedar and Fern located supermarket.

“We downloaded the app because my five-year-old daughter likes watching the dance videos. I think the tortilla trend is better than the dancing trends on TikTok. All you get from most of the trends is judgement. At least you get a meal out of this #tortillatrend, and if you don’t ever cook, you’re teaching yourself how to cook. You have to follow a process and gotta make sure whatever protein you cook is cooked.”

The circa-2016 TikTok app allocates one-minute blocks (recorded through its native interface) per video post. Many of the DIY tutorials are edited and emblazoned with text pop-ups and voiceovers to provide viewers with good cooking intel in a short timeframe, with licensed background music added, at times, for the ambience.

Unorthodox quesadilla ingredients are packed within the more popular #tortillatrend videos, like peanut dipping sauce and Nutella.

No mames güey [You gotta be kidding, bro],” said Jorge from Chula Vista, “IMHO, it’s crazy what they are [stuffing] in their quesadillas. They’re just trying to shock people for the likes.”

“The word quesadilla translates to ‘little cheesy thing’ in English. These on TikTok are grandote [huge].”

“Some ingredients just don’t make sense; I can tell they won’t work,” Serrano added. “But I’ll give ‘em an ‘A’ for effort.”

On the tortilla trend challenge, TikTokkers lay down a giant-sized tortilla; make a single incision from the center to the end of the tortilla; add ingredients into each of the four quadrants, cheese being the last. They then pick up the quadrant closest to the incision, folding it over twice, making it a semicircle, and folding it into a quadrant. The stuffed quadrant is placed in a pan with oil, then heated until both sides are browned, and the cheese oozes out.

“The way people are making them on TikTok is a shorthand tutorial on how to cook because you only have like a minute to show how to make this,” Serrano continued. “And the kids or young adults are like: ‘I can do that, I wanna try that.’ The thing is, you probably had all the ingredients in the refrigerator, and these video challenges are motivations for the viewers to make quesadillas. And when they post about it, people are like, ‘that looks so good.’ Two things get fed: your stomach and your ego. I know I’m guilty of it.”

“Recently, I made a tortilla wrap with birria meat, cabbage, cheese, and salsa, then grilled it in my Panini press. I call it queso-birria.”

Serrano has cooked at the cafe, known for its specialty omelets, for over 20 years. He’s made the orders to-go since our shutdown.

“It’s different doing take-out for breakfast, where breakfast is usually better eaten hot on the spot. You can’t enjoy it as much without Judy’s smile [the cafe owner]. That’s what hurt us. Yeah, the food speaks for itself, but you miss out on the atmosphere and us employees. People went there for the bonus of getting a hug from a stranger or a random conversation. It’s hard to get that in a to-go container.”

So hence the popularity of cooking and sharing online?

“Yes, especially since the shutdowns, people are anxious. People are trying to find the next high; they log into TikTok to stimulate the brain and get excited about food or whatever piques their interest. And when you get likes that makes you feel relevant, wanted, appreciated — things many people can’t get right now because everyone’s at home.”

“I’ve been doing it,” Serrano said, “not deliveries, but for pickup. I’ll reach out to my friends about making a big pot of birria or mole, but there’s only three of us in our house, and I’ll sell the rest. We’ll get like 10-15 orders. It’s a reasonable price with no delivery fees. People get a home-cooked meal.”

On a search for quesadillas on the Facebook Market page, over a dozen San Diego dwellers offered quesadillas, starting from basic cheese variations at $4 a piece to $12 deluxe quesadillas filled with goat or lamb meat and a side of veggies. Hundreds of Instagrammers worldwide followed the TikTokkers’ #tortillatrend, including salsa and tortilla companies.

I asked Serrano what he’s making tonight for the #tortillachallenge.”

“Spam!”

Later that night, he posted a video on his TikTok, backed with the “Spam” country song by Muddy Boots and the Porch Pounders. He captioned it, “SPAM WRAP IS HERE!!!! Fried spam, onion rings, egg fried rice, sesame seeds, jack cheese, and spicy mayo inside and outside for that perfect sear.”

He immediately received three orders.

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