Rey's Tamale Page

I was originally going to call this page the cooking page, but then I realized I liked eating more than cooking (although I enjoy cooking). And when I think about eating, the most mouth-watering meal I can think of is when it is composed of Mexican food. I mean enchiladas, tostadas, chile rellenos, quesidillas, burritos, tamales, and tacos, etc.

I can remember when my appreciation for Mexican food started. We never ate anything like it in my house while I was growing up, but I had some friends who were from Mexico and Guatemala. The first time I went to my friend Koko's house for a meal, his mom had prepared a meal with tortillas and various sauces that had a peppery aroma. I recall the smells more than the tastes. I think Koko was somewhat embarassed by having an Anglo friend over to share such an ethnic meal, but it was fantastic.

Later when I was in university, there used to be a place in Westwood Village called the El Toril that served Mexican food and was usually jammed every night with students drinking beer, eating hot, moist tortillas and debating whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that the Shah of Iran had been booked as the commencement speaker. Or were we just worried about parking problems?

The Search for the Best
Living in California provided continuous access to some of the best Mexican food in the world. And I had a list of great restaurants, cantinas and stands in various cities around the state. I can't list them any more and most of them have probably vanished. When I visited the Napa Valley on a cycling tour recently, while the other cyclists sought art galleries, wineries, and shopping in the cities we toured, I kept on the lookout for places that made tamales. Northern California has some of the best cantinas and most of them are too small to have websites, so you won't find them listed here.

My friend Jeff, a professional photographer, asked me to fill-in for a cook at a local B and B because the uniform they had was too small for the real cook. I love show business.
Living in Canada limits the availabiity of Mexican food. Although you can find a "Mexican" restaurant in various cities in Canada, I have yet to find one that rivals anything I sampled in California, Arizona, Florida, or New Mexico. And here is the most ironic part: even my trips to places in Mexico failed to yield the type of "Mexican" food I yearn for. Although there was one exception in San Miguel de Allende. Most of the tourist cities in Mexico like to attract visitors with other kinds of food. I have taken some risks at street-corner stands with mixed and distracting results.

Many years ago, a restaurant in Victoria near where I worked featured an all-you-could-eat taco bar. Finally, I thought I had struck a gold mine. I think the cost was only like four dollars and the ingredients were fresh and varied. A good friend and I would visit this place for lunch and proceed to eat many tacos. I don't remember whether we competed with each other to see who could eat the most, but after a few weeks, the restaurant went out of business. Now there is a great burrito place downtown, so I can have my cravings satsified there. E-mail me if you want to know the name of this place.

Since I have this great yearning for Mexican food, I have devised a very simple test to determine whether I would go back to a restaurant that serves such food. I look to see if the menu includes tamales. If this is the case, then I sample the tamale, and it is the taste of this particular food that tells me whether this is a worthwhile establishment. Tamales are not easy to make and usually require mucho preparation. One item that I found on the Internet is an electric tamale machine. I think it was invented for mass producing tamales.

So far the best tamales on the planet are actually at a very out of the way place called Leona's in Chimayo, New Mexico. Leona's is next to El Santurario de Chimayo where a miracle occured, so many tourists come to this place and it was the attraction that prompted our visit. The great thing about New Mexico is that "Mexican" food is available everywhere, not just in "Mexican" restaurants. There was, for a brief time, a deli in the Victoria area that was run by a woman from Mexico, and she would with notice prepare tamales. They were delicious, but she is no longer in the business. My piece of heaven diminished, but only slightly.

The next best place in the solar system for tamales is in Corte Madera, California. It's called David's. They have four types, but my favorite is their chicken tamale, which is made with organic chicken and very tasty masa corn flour. All the tamales are handmade and one tamale is a full meal. It's a small place with outdoor seating and a very friendly and hard-working staff. Unfortunately, when I returned to visit in 2004, it had gone out of business and morphed into a fast food, yet healthy burrito place a couple of doors away. I couldn't eat there, however, cause I already knew that the best burritos in Marin County are actually at Lucinda's, a true hole-in-the-wall type place in Mill Valley/Tiburon.

Tamales Festivals
There is a International Tamale Festival in Indio (near Palm Springs) California and that it takes place on the first weekend in December of each year. I've known about this event for years and have dreamed about going. In 2004 my dream became a reality. I thought it was probably a small, local event, but the attendance this year was over 30,000 people for the weekend. This two-day event featured more than 40 tamale booths; the tamales ranged from organic blue corn to desert tamales to tamales with all types of fillings. There were also carnvial rides plus booths selling other stuff and several bands playing around the event grounds.

Grandma Lupe headed a family crew that prepared tamales non-stop and the long wait was worth every minute.
One booth required a three hour wait. That's more than I can handle, but the dozen or so family members working in the booth never stopped preparing, cooking and serving. It was very colorful, but I think people might have been fooled since it was the first booth at the entryway, so some people might have thought it was the only booth. I sampled at least a dozen tamales and I definitely stated to figure out which ones were my favorites. Unfortunately, by the time I refined my palate, I was too full to eat another one (I never thought I'd be saying that about tamales.)

Indio Tamale Festival: By this time we were sampling the chocolate tamales.
Fortunately, our friends Diane and Bill were willing to sample different tamales. They ate everything with a great humor, and they were willing to give their own ratings, which I pretty much dismissed as tontos ignorantes. Since they were our hosts and we were staying at their beautiful time-share in Palm Springs, I translated "tontos ignorantes" for them. I told them it meant persons with impeccable taste.

There are other tamales events in California, but I haven't attended any of them yet. In June of each year there is the two-day Story Road Tamale Festival in San Jose, California. Another yearly tamales festival is held in Oxnard, California.

Other Great Tamale Places
Since creating this page I have from time to time received information from various places that believe they make a great tamale. Unfortunately, I can't really try them out because import regulations don't allow shipping tamales into Canada (whoever thought up that law?). Anyway what follows here are names and addresses of places I plan to visit some time to check out their tamale:

  • Tamales in Los Angeles
    Read Steve Lopez's December 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times

    Tamales in My Hometown
    One of the greatest elements of living in Victoria are the local community markets. There are several that take place on the weekends, but the closest one to my house is the Moss Street Market. This market is unique because the organizers only allow locally-grown, organic produce as well as locally produced crafts and foods.

    Moss Street Market: The line-up moves quickly. The only thing that slows it down is trying to decide which one of the three types to select. I don't have that problem: I get one of each.

    In addition to shopping for fruits and veggies, jams, flowers, clothing, and jewelry, you can listen to a great musical group or soloist (different each week), and have a delicious meal or snack at different food booths. As of 2007 the Moss Street Market includes a tamale booth that provides three different types of sensational tamales, steaming hot and ready to eat. They also provide frozen versions to take home.

    If you come to visit Victoria, British Columbia, another place for a really good, homemade tamale is Adriana's located at 2140B Keating X Road. There are many wonderful and tasty traditional and popular Mexican dishes on her menu, including tamales.

    If you have a favorite Mexican food place, or if you know of places that make great tamales, please e-mail me, I want to try it out. You can e-mail me at rcarr@islandnet.com.


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