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Flautas are a Mexican dish made by wrapping a tortilla around a savory filling and deep frying the result. Typically served hot out of the fryer, they may be topped with an assortment of ingredients. Multiple flautas are usually served in a single serving, since small tortillas are often used. In addition to being available in Mexico, this dish is also very popular in the American Southwest, and variations can be found in South America as well.
The term is derived from the Spanish word for flute, and the rolled tortillas do look rather like flutes. In some cases, they may appear on a menu with names like flauta con pollo, indicating that the flauta is made with chicken, or flautas de Guadalajara, meaning that they are in the style of Guadalajara. These more detailed names can provide clues as to how the dish may taste. In cases where the contents are not detailed, diners may want to ask restaurant staff so that they are not surprised by what they get.
The base of a flauta is a tortilla, which can be small or burrito sized, depending on the inclination of the cook. Fresh tortillas are usually preferable, since they are more flexible and flavorful. Some people distinguish between this dish and taquitos, a similar dish, claiming that flautas are made from flour tortillas and taquitos are made from corn. The terms, however, are often used interchangeably, and some people believe that taquito is a term coined in California, rather than a true Mexican-Spanish word.
The filling is often made from shredded beef or chicken, although pork is not unheard of. It may also be heavily spiced with chilies and tomatoes. After being deep fried, the dish may be dressed with shredded cabbage, queso fresco, sour cream, tomatoes, salsa, or hot sauce. The fresh greenery helps to cut the somewhat greasy filling which can accompany fried foods. The fried tortillas can also be eaten out of hand like a snack food. Serving them cold is usually not recommended, as the taste is considered less than desirable.
As is common with Mexican cuisine, there are several different versions of flautas available in Mexico, and these versions may be very different from the American variations served North of the border. Americans, for example, may simply deep fry burritos and give the resulting dish this name, or they may make cheese filled vegetarian versions. This diversity is one of the things that makes Mexican food so interesting, since there are many regions of Mexico, all with unique culinary traditions.