An Englishman Reviews the Whole Christmas Tamale Thing

tamales1.jpg
Gavin Cleaver
These are "tam-a-les"
Apparently you guys celebrate Christmas by eating tamales.

No, me neither. I've no idea what you're doing. What screams Christmas about a tamale? I suppose you could take this reductionist argument to any Christmas food (what's Christmassy about slaughtering a turkey and then roasting it, or, as some people are apparently wont to do, deep-frying it), but a tamale? It's like a corn dog wrapped in a leaf, only less flavorsome.

See also: A User's Guide to British Food From a British Guy

The obligatory "Gavin struggles to order food" section first - upon being informed I could obtain the most authentic tamales from a gas station (I have no words) I proceeded to that renowned center of culinary excellence, a Conoco on 121 in Lewisville. I was greeted by an entire side of a gas station devoted to cheap Mexican food, with three windows I could potentially order from. I ordered six pork tamales, and six tamales I could not understand the contents of, and was too stricken with embarrassment to enquire further.

tamale2gavin.jpg
Gavin Cleaver
Tamales: Nature's most un-photographable food
Upon finally acquiring the tamales (served across what I assumed to be the taco desk, despite ordering them at the presumed tamale window) and hurrying back to my car, lest there was some further sequence of accepted events in this fandango I was not privy to, I took the short trip home and presented my family with what appeared to be twelve corn sausages wrapped in leaves.

How their hearts fell. I had promised a feast, and delivered only confusion. By this point, however, I can demand they eat things for the sake of City of Ate, and so they gingerly took two tamales (I had lost track of which was pork and what was an unknown filling by this juncture) each and retired to the sofa, bemused and lost.

Their moods did not lift upon sampling the Mexican delicacy. While obviously not sharing in the Christmas spirit contained inherently within a tamale, they complained that they tasted of nothing, were difficult to eat, and smelled weird. Sour cream and hot sauce did not raise their opinion, and the majority of the tamales went uneaten, left sitting on the table, unable to fulfill their Christmas destiny.

Myself? I found them unremarkable, like working your way through a lot of unseasoned corn in the hope of discovering some tasty meat. Perhaps tamales are a metaphor for the holiday season versus the rest of the year, the time off work being the spicy pork and the drudgery of the unrelenting months of identical weeks the corn. I can't tell. I can see, however, that you could get into a rhythm eating these things, and that as a platform for sour cream, they are perfectly acceptable. I shall not be seeking them out again, but neither shall I reject them off-hand. In summary - meh.

Meh-ry Christmas everybody.

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18 comments
J_A_
J_A_

The best tamales I ever ate were ones the cleaning lady in our old building would make and sell. Seriously that shit was damn good and cheap to boot.

dailybs
dailybs

I have two words for you. Spotted dick.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I adore Mexican cuisine, but I hate tamales.  Yech! 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

I believe they have an attachment to Xmas (and I know this bc of a mexican friend) because the family is all out of school and mom is off work with them and so they spend time baking dozens and dozens of tamales with each family member helping out.  Then when they are all done, the send beat down dad to work with them to sell to all the white sheeple who herd to these things like crack and will pay anywhere from $10 -$15 a dozen for said crack er tamale.  Plus whitey feels so much more safe buying them from Jose at work as opposed to Juan in little Mexico

1dailyreader
1dailyreader

I've found that home made tamales are the best.  Most of the time,  the tamales are being made for family and friends and they want to make sure they are the very best possible.  If you're buying from someone, they're probably using the least expensive ingredients and very little meat filling.  If you luck upon some home made tamales, you can taste the big difference. To me, spicy is best.

mstylr
mstylr

This article has been linked on thejavelina.com

GDavid
GDavid

As with a lot of mexican or latin foods, it's also about the accompaniments. Here's some tips from a gringo:1.always steam the tamales to reheat. it re-hydrates them. Use a pot of water and put a steamer on top. I also will add some crushed garlic,onions and other aromatics thrown on top. 15 minutes minimum.2. dice up some tomatoes, jalapenoes, onion, cilantro and make a quick pico.3.when tamales are ready, serve with any choice of beans. dollop sour cream on top, followed by your pico and/or any other hot sauce you care for. Cholula can be nice at times.That should be all. It's simple, peasant food, meant to keep, be hearty and warm.

dixiechickidie
dixiechickidie

Something happens when Mom roasts a pork shoulder for tamales. I call it Christmas magic. 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Gavin,

Go to  La Popular on Columbia.  Try them all.  The traditional filling for Xmas tamales is turkey.  Maybe you can organize a tamalada at the DO.

Whitney
Whitney

I too find the majority of tamales to be unremarkable and bland. Always wondered what I was missing. Maybe this means I have British tastebuds? *cringe*

markzero
markzero

@1dailyreader I've had pretty good luck with tamales in places that have at least one grandma in the kitchen. 

Actually, that's worked well for pho, too. I should probably just make that a general rule.

GDavid
GDavid

@GavinCleaver And another gringo tip. Central Market has some very good ones as well. A lot has to do with their fillings. CM uses some quality stuff. I also recommend La Popular, their pork with jalapeno and beef (shredded, barbacoa like) is excellent. So are their salsas.

It's true, nothing really beat my mexican friends' moms or grandmas tamales growing up.

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