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You Can Order Handmade ‘Squid Game’ Tortillas From L.A.’s Masa Catalina

11:04 AM PST on November 16, 2021

    After its mid-September release, South Korea’s Squid Game quickly rose to become Netflix’s most-watched original series in the streaming video company’s history, winning fans throughout the world.

    Transforming society's high-stakes rat race into a life-and-death/debt competition that encapsulates our dystopic despair made the action all pretty easy to relate to.

    Who couldn’t feel the visceral threat of being instantaneously murdered for overstepping one’s bounds in “Red Light, Green Light?” Or experience a moment of vulnerability and terror at being dragged to a dramatic splatter by a stronger team in a tug-of-war?

    But while those parts press the buttons of just about every person who has ever entered a playground, the dalgona scene, in which players were forced to coax designs out of a brittle circle of honeycomb candy, was just a little less relatable for audiences not steeped in a Korean childhood.

    L.A.’s Masa Catalina is setting out to change this with dalgona-inspired treats that every taco-head should feel kinship with.

    Masa Catalina's handmade "Squid Game" tortillas de maiz
    Masa Catalina's handmade "Squid Game" tortillas de maiz.
    Masa Catalina's handmade "Squid Game" tortillas de maiz

    Owner Nicole Carrasco is offering her laboriously handmade corn tortillas embossed with one of the infamous Squid Game symbols—umbrella, star, circle, or triangle— set into every two-toned, full moon of masa.

    Carrasco launched Masa Catalina in the summer of 2021 after her job as an interior designer fell prey to the pandemic, leading to idle days in her Van Nuys home in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood.

    Moving to the Valley from the Philippines in 2000, it was here that she met and married her high school sweetheart, Andres, the son of Mexican immigrants. The couple had recently changed their diets to a healthier, more organic one while trying to have a baby.

    Tortillas from Masa Catalina.
    Nicole Carrasco of Masa Catalina

    Inspired by Netflix cooking shows such as Chef’s Table and The Taco Chronicles, Nicole began using the newfound time on her hands to experiment with nixtamalizing organic corn, and testing out various amounts of cal and corn varieties, while learning to make masa.

    “My suegra tells stories of her mom making masa, but she never did,” Carrasco recounts. “My father-in-law grew up on a rancho in Mexico and they also made it this way, but never carried it here. It got lost along the way. So watching these things sparked nostalgia in me. That’s when I started to look into it more.”

    Tortillas from Masa Catalina.
    Tortillas from Masa Catalina.

    The 34-year-old was even inspired by the word masa itself, which means “dough” in both Mexico and the Philippines, as well as the idea of eventually connecting their new baby girl, Catalina, to her heritage. All while providing better-tasting, healthier tortillas for her Mexican American family and community.

    “I wanted something that celebrates my daughter because she’s Mexican and Filipino,” Nicole says of the company’s name. “We were also colonized by the Spanish and share very similar things. Masa is kind of a platform, in that it applies to both cultures. I want to ingrain this part of the culture in her.”

    Today, Masa Catalina offers a robust cache of what Nicole calls “designer” tortillas, made fresh for customers who direct message her on Instagram or find her at farmers markets and pop-up events.

    The Mexican and U.S. dent corn kernels she sources, all organic and non-GMO, are painstakingly nixtamalized, dried, and ground in a stone molcajete.

    “It’s a lot of labor,” she says. “But I think the end product is much better than what’s out there. It gives it a different flavor. It’s kind of like a lost craft that’s coming out again.”

    The masa de harina she sells comes in a wide range of flour varieties, including chickpea, almond, oat, and sweet potato and cassava.

    Photos of Catalina's tortillas.
    Tortillas by Masa Catalina

    Tapping her background in design, she also inlays white corn masa with shapes made from blue masa, and vice versa, into these visually stunning, artistic tortillas.

    One of her biggest sellers at farmers markets is a spinach-infused tortilla de harina, though she personally prefers the garlic-spinach variety for the way it “elevates” the flavors in a quesadilla.

    “Funnily enough, my husband was not a big fan of tortillas growing up,” she says. “He’d stuff them under the microwave. But these he does love. There’s something about store-bought tortillas that don’t taste the same.”

    Carrasco recently started crafting her Squid Game-inspired tortillas and debuted them last week, in an attempt to make something cool for her eight-year-old nephew, a HUGE fan of the show that she plays “Red Light, Green Light” with every weekend in her front yard.

    “He’d always ask about those honeycomb sugar things,” Carrasco recalls. “And I don’t know how to make those. I’ve never had them before or heard of them until Squid Game came out. So I thought about doing tortillas because we’re always trying to think of something more kid-friendly that I know how to do, so he can have fun.”

    Carrasco confirms the nephew was super stoked to see her Squid Game tortillas, as were many of Masa Catalina’s customers. Although few probably realize just how much work they take.

    Each tortilla contains both white corn and—to recreate the caramel color of the show’s dalgona—yellow corn. Carrasco uses a cookie cutter for the stars, circle, and triangles, but says the umbrellas, the show’s trademark symbol, presented the biggest challenge.

    Ultimately, her husband had to 3D-print out a cookie cutter in that shape, much like they do with her two-toned blue-and-white tortillas.

    “That’s kind of like our creative side working together,” she says. “I can think of a shape and he can help bring it to life. It’s a really nice creative outlet.”

    Stitching the two masas together makes Carrasco feel not unlike one of the characters of the show herself, only tackling the reverse task of melding the designs together instead of separating them.

    “It really takes a lot of time,” she says. “The masa itself is not that easy to peel off or work with because it has a certain softness, so to retain the shape requires a lot of time. But I have fun making it and my nephew has fun, so it’s all good.”

    You can DM Masa Catalina directly on Instagram to buy Carrasco's masa or tortillas. The latter, including the Squid Game designs, go for $10 per dozen.

    That's 11,823 Won. If you’re wondering.

    Nicole Carrasco of Masa Catalina
    Nicole Carrasco of Masa Catalina

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