I had no idea that I liked tamales. None at all. Until a fateful day in Texas. Let me tell you about it.
First of all I should tell you about tamales. They’re traditional in many countries, but I prefer the recipe and flavor of the Mexican tradition. Those are made of masa, a corn-based flour, which is turned into a dough and stuffed with meat (usually pork, chicken or beef). The tamale is steamed or boiled in a corn husk wrapper. When you’re ready to eat, just toss the wrapper and enjoy the goodness inside.
In Mexico, tamales are a comfort food. I understand that; there’s just something soothing and comforting about a well made tamale. That’s the key though: it’s got to be well made and fresh – I have learned this the hard way.
Eighteen months ago I supervised two dozen college students on a Habitat for Humanity trip to the Houston area. Part of our work included manual labor on the construction site, the other part of our work included heavy lifting, cleaning, and organizing at the local Habitat ReStore warehouse.
There we were, seated around three banquet tables and mismatched chairs, which we set up so we could have a place to eat lunch. Behind us in the warehouse sat rolls of carpet. In front of us sat piles of items to sift through and determine what was saleable merchandise and what would find its new home in the dumpster out back.
The organizers of our trip must have sensed that we were growing a bit weary by the end of the week, so they arranged for the perfect lunch: tamales and bottles of a variety of caffeinated beverages. Smart.
A local woman prepared a variety of tamales, we had pork, chicken, and shredded beef. She was in and out with the deliver in a flash; I so wish she had stuck around to see our reactions. Many of us took our first bites at the same time and our eyes grew wide. Those tamales were a slice of heaven – they were piping hot, full of flavor and they melted in your mouth. We each had several and then continued to talk about them for the rest of the trip.
I might cry just thinking about them, they were that good.
Upon my return to the great city of Fargo I ordered tamales from nearly every restaurant I could. That one had been frozen and reheated, this one was ordered and delivered on a truck and didn’t have the right consistency – where were the fresh tamales like we had in Texas?
After more than a year of searching I found my self at a Tex-Mex restaurant and I took a chance, ordering a tamale combination plate. Expecting to be disappointed, but hoping that I could end my quest, I cut into the tamale with a fork and shoveled in my first bite.
Once again my eyes grew wide, a smile spread across my face, and I pointed enthusiastically to the tamale on my plate until it was safe for me to speak. “This is it!” I exclaimed to my friend, who was just excited about my discovery. (She’d been listening to me whine for over a year, so this was good news for her too.)
Houston, thanks for the quest. I owe you one