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tamales – La Gourmandista

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Etiqueta: tamales

There's tamales and then There's Doña Emi

Tamales… they’re probably the most antique dish recorded in Mexican Cuisine. We find them all around the country, we even have a saying to express that one has got options just by enlisting availability of spicy, sweet and just lard. Sounds a bit strange, but it makes sense if you come to think of it. Now, anyone who claims having Aztec blood running through their veins will eat them without a doubt. Now, if you are in Mexico City or plan to be there, just google ‘Tamales Doña Emi’ and you’ll find a vast amount of reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, blogs just like this one, I mean, they are quite easy to find, and on top of it, most of the comments related to them are tremendously positive. Most people find them simply MARVELOUS. And I completely agree with them. I think they’re just spectacular; they’ve always been.

Every time I go to Mexico City, one of my must-do’s is to eat at least a couple of these beautiful fluffy husk wrapped corn cakes. At the very least, and because I am in my hometown, I will make some space in the program to have them for breakfast with my dad. Now, I am not a fanatic of the sweet ones, but green salsa and rajas (poblano strips) with cheese drive me crazy. Last time I went, Ms. Carmen convinced me to taste a newer flavor: figs with cream cheese, OMG! It was delicious! But let me tell you why, they are so fluffy, that I can only describe it as biting a cloud in each mouthful.

Now, my story with this shop which some call ‘the best tamales in colonia Roma’ or even ‘the tamale dynasty’ is a lot less journalistic, but much closer to my heart. And in fact, I can’t explain why I hadn’t sat down to write this post before, since I share the story with everyone I know.

Tamal de rajas con queso: Mi preferido

Currently, the shop is located on the street of Jalapa, just one block from their original location, just behind a sports club called Club Deportivo Hacienda, if I’m not mistaken. Now, my dad attended the Elementary School which is just across the street from the current shop. It’s called Benito Juárez. Therefore, my grandma knew very well Ms. Emi, the original owner of the shop. She lived just a few blocks from there in the same neighborhood on the street of Toluca. Frequently, she would stop by and get a tamale with a cup of guava atole -a corn flour drink typically accompanying tamales in different flavors. When my dad started to work sometimes he would run into Ms. Emi. This, dad says would embarrass him, since, even though he was already wearing his tie and suit, the lady wouldn’t hesitate to give the young man his ‘tamalito’ for free, for she didn’t want him to go to work on an empty stomach. However, Mr. Luis, as dad is now called by the ladies at the shop, continued to go get tamales from Ms. Emi, then to his daughter, and now to Ms. Carmen, her granddaughter. First, he went alone, then he went with my mama. When my sister and I were born, he would get up early on a Saturday morning, and by the time we would wake up, the whole house smelled like tamales coming out of the steamer ready to be eaten. A real treat.

Back then I would only be 5 or 6 years old, so, my view of the world was solely through what I was shown by my parents, and because dad would always go there, I would think they were the only ones on the surface of the Earth. As I grew up, I obviously learned otherwise, however, I have always thought they are the very best. I think my first time at the shop was as a teenager, when I went with my dad precisely on February 2nd, since we were getting some tamales for the family to celebrate at home Candlemas; something we had to have on our table every year.

Ms. Emi’s shop for me has always been a part of my life, even after leaving Mexico a few years ago, since they are the first image that comes to my mind when I talk about tamales. Therefore, if not this year for Candlemas, do it on any other date, but if you are in Mexico City, visit this place. I give you my word you won’t regret it.

How Mexico Celebrates Candlemas

To talk about tamales on February 2 is more than mandatory for La Gourmandista, but I had to do some research, hence my publishing until now this post. Very late. I didn’t know much, other than this was a mixed festivity, since there are tamales in a catholic feast. The rest of it was still a mystery to me.

Since I was a child I remember my excitement combined with concern when cutting the Kings’ Cake on January 6. I mean, I loved it, but I was worried of getting the hidden Baby Jesus, for I would be responsible of the Candlemas feast on February 2nd, and since back then I didn’t know how to prepare tamales, I am sure you can understand why I would be ‘stressed’ so to speak. On top of it, that sounded like something extremely difficult. Fortunately, I always ended up being responsible of preparing the pre-hispanic corn-based beverage known as atole, and which was to accompany the dinner we made a tradition at home as the years passed by.

Izote Flower Tamales

For me, to think about tamales is to remember the stand where my father would go and buy these little cakes wrapped in their own corn husks located in the Colonia Roma in  Mexico City. Generally, I would eat the savory assortment, either green salsa, red mole or roasted chili peppers with cheese, rather than the sweet kind. I actually never liked those, but now that I come back to it, I think I really never gave them a chance… maybe I just didn’t like their color. And obviously, choosing the spicy ones would mean suffering with the terrible burning heat and pain derived thereof. Also, and in time, the black bean kind from the state of Veracruz, the Oaxacan style and the green salsa in banana leaf found their way into my preferred selection list. Now, I know there are hundreds of kinds of tamales, but my heart always travels to those, the roasted chili pepper with cheese kind from the stand near the Centro Médico Nacional S.XXI (The National Medical Center) in Mexico City.

Among everything I learned today, it turns out the festivity is to honor Our Lady of Candelaria, the patron of the Canary Islands. It celebrates the Virgin’s purification after giving birth and presenting Baby Jesus in the Temple, since it is at the end of the postpartum quarantine.

Also, in Mexico, this festivity, just like many others, was combined with pre-hispanic roots, since February 2 coincided with the eleventh day of the first month of the antique Aztec calendar which celebrated the ‘helpers’ of Tláloc, the god of rain. These helpers are called tlaloques and the festivity takes place when the cobs of corn were taken to be blessed before they were to be used as the seeds for the new agricultural cycle.

Currently, this is a very popular feast everywhere in the Mexican society. It doesn’t matter if the cook is all poshy, or if it is a street stand with its huge steaming pot; they will all serve their delicacies to every customer who will come to their place of business that day, for everywhere one can see small family reunions, no matter if it’s the middle of the week. In some offices, the management will even look the other way, and the employees organize their small feast. No one will resist ‘tamallis’ on this day; or at least no one that I know, that is.

Being far away from my country, I had to learn how to prepare them, and even though I now know I did some atrocities, I have got to confess they were glorious to us at the time. This year, we are very very late, but I promise this weekend we will surely prepare one of the now known versions. It will mostly depend on which ingredients are available when doing the groceries.