Hot tamales!
June 21, 2007 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Mississippi Delta folks talking about tamales.
posted by Wolfdog (34 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
...yes, she's got 'em for sale!

Lunchtime will never get here today and your post isn't helping, but I am enjoying it anyway. Thanks!
posted by TedW at 7:03 AM on June 21, 2007

See also.
posted by pdb at 7:10 AM on June 21, 2007

aw, man...I was just turning in for the night, but I'm already clicking through this scrumptious site.

ironically, I was just talking tamales with a group of expats here in central Japan and I was requested to track down ingredients/recipes, because it's one of those categories of Central American cuisine which we can never seem to find, here.

so, thanks.
posted by squasha at 7:13 AM on June 21, 2007

Niiiiice site.

I'm kind of obsessed with tamales. For years, I've been swearing I was gonna make them for Christmas Eve dinner...last year we had a lot of leftover roast pork, so I did. They were delicious. My best guide and support for that project was this website, complete with detailed pictures and personal advice.

This is all part of a gradual skills mastery for the Los Posadas party I hope to throw one day.
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

For years, I've been swearing I was gonna make them for Christmas Eve dinner

They have been the Christmas Eve dinner in my parents house as long as I have been alive.

About ten years ago, my empty nester mother decided to get on a gourmet cooking kick. So she started making things like Beef Wellington and other fine dishes. But we still had the tamales, as well. Tamales covered by our family homemade chili recipe is one of the warm feelings about the holidays for me.
posted by dios at 7:42 AM on June 21, 2007

John T. Edge on how tamales got to the Delta.

(John is also the guy who clued us into Kool-Aid Pickles)
posted by ColdChef at 7:47 AM on June 21, 2007

But how did "red hot tamales" get to be a staple of the Mississippi Delta? Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge tells Debbie Elliott that it happened a century ago, when migrant Mexican farmworkers came to pick cotton side by side with African Americans in the deep South.

And this is why I'm not worried about the cultural (and gustatory) future of New Orleans.
posted by ColdChef at 7:49 AM on June 21, 2007

I admit I've never eaten a tamale. Admitting it is the first step, right?
posted by NationalKato at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2007

Now you mention it I remember hearing the NPR story, but I'd forgotten all about it. I found this site quite randomly - reading the funnies this morning I thought today's (typically crap) Herb & Jamaal was mangling an older-than-the-hills jokes about a "mother-in-law" sandwich and went searching for evidence.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2007

What a cool little site. Neat that the trailer [.mov] for the upcoming film starts with a bit from Jimbo Mathus from the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 AM on June 21, 2007

Christmas eve dinner for years for me too, although not since I moved away from So Cal. Usually we took so long making them that we couldn't eat them until midnight or the next day. It was a big, messy project. But fun.

Lordy I miss San Diego mexican food. I tried making tamales here but I can't find the ingredients that taste the way I want them so I gave up. And what is the idea of PUTTING RICE IN BURRITOS here? People should be arrested for that. Seriously. There should be Mexican food police. And a bad Mexican food jail where they torture people by putting chili in their eyes or something.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2007

Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes, she got 'em for sale
She got two for a nickel, got four for a dime
Would sell you more, but they ain't none of mine
Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got'em for sale

Hot tamales: as ubiquitous in the South as Robert Johnson.
posted by hifiparasol at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2007

Lynnster, my favorite San Diego burrito place (Adalberto's on Rosecrans) put rice in their burritos. Of course, they also had a "California burrito" which had potatoes as well, so who knows how authentic they were. Damn fine burritos, though.

Oddly, even though I've lived in San Diego and now live in Los Angeles, my absolute favorite Mex food is at Anna's Taqueria in... Boston. Yeah.
posted by hifiparasol at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2007

I loves me some tamales!1!. Best ones are served out of the back of a Pinto station wagon at a construction site employing people of dubious citizenship. PLEASE NOTE: Just eat them. Do not, repeat DO NOT ask what kind of meat is used.
posted by HyperBlue at 8:27 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I wrote a little song about tamales:

Tamales and Beer, Tamales and Beer
So many Tamales and Beer,
Fall asleep on the grass and get a bad...
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2007

Miko, that tamale site is good; thanks for the link. One thing you might try next time is substituting manteca for the cooking oil in their recipe; definitely makes a better dough.
posted by TedW at 8:50 AM on June 21, 2007

I'm sending some friends off on a tour thru the delta in a couple of weeks, I can't believe I forgot to tell them about tamales. Maybe I can get them to bring me a bag back.

One of my favorite Mississippi quotes comes from a professor friend who lived there for ten years, he said, "I knew it was time to leave when my own child told me, 'Let's find a guy parked next to the road, I'm hungry."
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:59 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

damn you lynnster, now i want el cotixan
posted by flaterik at 9:00 AM on June 21, 2007

A little-known tidbit that you don't hear much: Authentic tamale filling consists of pork snouts. That's a gastronomic line I really don't cross.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:11 AM on June 21, 2007

There should be Mexican food police. And a bad Mexican food jail where they torture people by putting chili in their eyes or something.

I think one of the strengths of Mexican food actually is it's variety and diversity. If you travel in Mexico you'll quickly realize there is no "authentic" anything. Tamales, for example, come in a lot of regional varieties: Different doughs, seasonings, fillings and even wrappers such as corn husks, corn leaves, banana leaves etc.

My favorite tamal in the universe (as I've mentioned here before) is a regional variety in SouthWestern Mexico: the tamal nejo. Its a coarse dark dough, tough but fluffy with a slight green coloring. Ash is used but this should not be confused with another ash tamal known as the Corunda. There is no filling and they are tiny round-ish things. Its wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. You eat it as follows:

1. Unwrap tiny tamal from leaves.

2. Tear it in half. Add fresh cheese (queso fresco) in the middle.

3. Dip, yes, dip the thing in a side bowl of Churipo described in a NYTimes article as "hearty beef and vegetable stew in a potent broth of ground, dried chili arbol, chili guajillo and chili pasilla."

4. Eat! (Best served with a bottle of Bohemia beer)
posted by vacapinta at 10:11 AM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Authentic tamale filling consists of pork snouts.

I think you are misusing the word "authentic." Perhaps you meant to say "one traditional" instead of suggesting that the one true authentic filling by definition must contain pork snouts.

While its certainly true that tamales are not traditionally made with the prime cuts of meat (why would you use the tenderloin?), I think it is incorrect to say that the filling consists of specifically pork snouts. There is certainly a type of tamale that is made out of the pig's head (which would contain snout and tongue), but that is something I would describe as just one traditional preparation (and a delicacy at that). In fact, given that tamales date back to the Aztecs thousands of years ago, I'm not sure one could define the authetic preparation. But while pork is the most common, depending on what region of Mexico you are in, there are a wide spectrum of traditional preparations of tamales that do not contain Pork at all.
posted by dios at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2007

Tamales are an distinct obstacle in my path to strict vegetarianism.

But they're a teeny tiny little stumbling block compared to pho.
posted by Tehanu at 10:51 AM on June 21, 2007

When I was back in school in Jackson you could drive through town and see houses with a board on their kitchen windows and a bench underneath. These windows were to be knocked upon in order to be served what Mama was cookin' that day, usually beans and rice or tamales.

Some windows had awnings over them, a bell to ring, price boards or even a coke machine. The windows you never passed were not the most elaborate ones but rather the ones where the grass in the yard was worn away in a bee line to the window.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:19 AM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

The best tamales I have ever had in my life were from this place in Puerto Morelos (between Cancun and Playa del Carmen) called El Tio's. We were super, super broke because of my totally heinous ability to plan anything financial, and so we were buying Pacifico from the grocery store, and then got these amazing, huge chicken tamales for something ridiculous, like a a dollar fifty, put some homemade pico or something, featuring hot motherfucking peppers, and ate them with our bare fingers, sitting on a pier, looking out at the Carribbean. I still dream about those tamales.
posted by mckenney at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2007


And now I want me some tamales, dammit.

From pdb's Esquire link:

What the heck is paprika?

Jesus Christ, if you don't know what paprika is, you have no business writing about food.

Authentic tamale filling consists of pork snouts.

This reminds me of when my ex-wife was learning how to make pozole. It kept coming out bland until the folks at the Mexican restaurant down the block told her she had to put an entire pig's head in a large pot and boil it to make the stock. Fortunately, in Astoria it's easy to buy just about any food-related item, pig's heads included, so next day one was bubbling away on the stove (and the resultant pozole was superb). But I wish I had a picture of her gingerly poking the snout as the head bobbed in the water.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on June 21, 2007

I remember my mother sitting down with me at a Chinese restaurant, taking one look at the soup and getting a gleeful look in her eye: "They used the feet in this! Look! There's no other way you can get that color!" (She was delighted about this. It was, in her mind, an unsurpassable hallmark of quality.) She went up front to pass on her compliments and ask where they got their chicken feet and was met with extreme reticence and outright denial at first, followed, at great length, by a mutual, convivial festival of appreciation for the virtues of chicken feet.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:12 PM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'll concede that the pork snouts are a traditional filling rather than "authentic", though still I can't stomach them. I've also got serious concerns these days with -any- kind of head cheese now that we're finding out about prion diseases.

But I've got to say there's nothing like masa in corn husks. My mother in law found a Mexican restaurant on Westheimer Blvd in Houston that makes awesome vegetarian tamales in those corn husk wrappers... now I'm going to have to figure out who they were and mail order some.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:11 PM on June 21, 2007

My mother in law found a Mexican restaurant on Westheimer Blvd in Houston that makes awesome vegetarian tamales in those corn husk wrappers... now I'm going to have to figure out who they were and mail order some.

While as a general rule Houston has poor and inferior Mexican food, I think I have had what you might be recalling: Berryhill's? If you want great tamales (or any Mexican food), there are better places in Dallas, Austin, or San Antone.
posted by dios at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2007

We were at Zeigeist the other night when the Tamale Lady came around. One in our party had never had a tamale (despite having lived in SF for, I dunno, years). We pretty much forced him to go get one - "Be sure to ask for hot sauce!" - and he came back with a cheese tamale (he's a vegetarian). "It's like cheese grits! But better!" he exclaimed. He's from North Carolina, so I imagine he knows his cheese grits.

Me, I like the pork ones.
posted by rtha at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2007

A little-known tidbit that you don't hear much: Authentic tamale filling consists of pork snouts. That's a gastronomic line I really don't cross.

Depends on the region. You do realize that traditional tamales are made from the US/Mexico border on down to Chile, right? Every continent, state, county and town has its own "traditional" recipe.

Anybody who's never made tamales before should strongly consider it. Here's my favorite recipe -

Get as many of your friends and relatives as you can into one place. Add generous amounts of quality booze and other party substances. Supply the masa harina, corn husks, and a variety of fillings, and make tamales all night and divide the results equally amongst those who contributed. This recipe will yield one (1) night to remember for all involved, and should theoretically supply the participants with a week's worth of quality, home-made tamales. If for any reason this recipe doesn't work, add more or less booze to taste.
posted by lekvar at 3:34 PM on June 21, 2007

The world's best tamales are at Sara's Tamales in the Saturday Market (April-Christmas) in Eugene, Oregon.
posted by neuron at 8:21 PM on June 21, 2007

Hey, I just noticed the Southern Foodways Alliance has similar oral history pages for BBQ, boudin, and gumbo, and a bunch of other regional food documentary materials.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:42 AM on June 22, 2007

Lekvar wins. That's without a doubt my favorite recipe.
posted by hue at 5:36 PM on June 23, 2007

Tamales... better than brains.

When I was a kid I would take road trips in Mexico with my parents. My father would stop in every single tiny town and try whatever vendors where selling in the plaza. I loved it.
You can travel all over Latin America eating nothing but tamales, and you will never get the same thing twice.

My favourites, only from Mexico, are:

Tamales colados from Michoacan, sweet and runny, with no meat. Almost like dessert, you can eat warm or cold.

The ones with raisins, cinammon and chicken from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. Only way to get them is, on Saturdays, to walk around the old part of town, and knock on doors that have a red lantern outside.

Tamales de Ceniza in Oaxaca. Dark, small, square. Wrapped in Banana leaves. No meat, only a daub of black beans. Ceniza means ash, I have no idea what kind of ashes are used, it must be part of the nixtamalization process.

The Tamales Canarios from Estado de Mexico. Only available once a year, made of rice flour, butter and sweet vanilla. Yellow and sweet.

The Zacahuil from the Huasteca. The flavor is not so special, but is is very cool to see a 3 meter long, 50 kilo tamal. Meant to be shared.

Corundas from Michoacan. Small, triangular and salty. Great as appetizers with cold beer.

And my personal favorite: the Tamal de Cochinita Pibil from Yucatan. If you have ever tried a tamal and cochinita, you can only imagine what both do together.

If you want the unique opportunity to try 300 kinds of tamales in one place, go to Mexico City of the Fiesta de la Candelaria.

(I am so tempted to make my First FPP on this. I just have to find some pictures and english language recipes)
posted by Dataphage at 2:37 PM on July 16, 2007

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