A Tale of Tamales
1515 E. Lake St.,Minneapolis
I live very near a grade school in south Minneapolis, I have a stone wall, and I have a number of rosebushes. I know this topic has been covered ad nauseam in so many shoddily researched "exposés," "docudramas," and "things that wrap around the fresh lint-roller tape," but I feel it bears further exploration, because no matter what that lying dry cleaner of yours says, there truly is no more efficient method than a grade school, a stone wall, and some rosebushes for harvesting just really an astonishing number of worksheets and tamale husks.
Worksheets and tamale husks, tamale husks and worksheets. When it comes to worksheets and tamale husks, I am what is generally regarded as "rich," "rolling in it," or "covered with cat hair." I realize then that I have a unique perspective on such things and, therefore, a responsibility to communicate these insights to the general public, repercussions be damned. For one thing: This may not occur to you in your busy life of high-fiber cereal and rush-hour traffic, but from where I sit it's impossible to ignore the stark truth that really, really quite a lot of words rhyme with mat. Such as cat. Sat. I could go on. Of course, you argue, there are also many words that rhyme with cow. I concur. Yet I think you'll find if you examine the topic more thoroughly, mat is not to be underestimated. Though we are always fighting the last war.
As for the tamale husks, they have commonly filled me with an aching sort of despair: In the circles I travel in, tamales are commonly too dry, too formerly frozen, or too (only technical jargon will serve) icky and ishy for human consumption. It's true, sometimes I think that I'll take the ten to twelve hours necessary to prepare fresh masa (alkali-processed corn dough), roast and grind a lot of chiles and garlic, make a lot of fillings, roll them all into corn husks, and steam them. But then mostly I think, nah, I'm just going to keep unbending this paper clip until it snaps. Oh yeah, there it goes. So, as I was saying, mostly I look at those tamale husks and wonder why I don't have a Mexican or Central American mom laboring mightily for me, producing pots upon pots of home-made tamales so that I might come up with more words that rhyme with mat. Such as Arafat! Bet the second graders would ring round with admiration, wouldn't they! Oh, why?
It's true, Minneapolis's tamale culture is on the upswing. (As compared with St. Paul's, which by dint of the West Side's marvelous El Burrito Mercado needs no upswinging: Their coarse-ground, savory corn-husk tamales are the state's standard-bearer.) One day I swung by La Loma, a tiny tamale counter in the corner of Mercado Central, and ordered a chicken green-chile tamale ($1.50), and when I received the tube of lush, quivering corn-meal batter studded with dusky peppers, the chicken filling tender and brisk with tomatillos and green chiles, I just about fell over. Whoa, that's good stuff. Return visits netted a red-pork tamale ($1.50), the corn meal dusky maroon with smoky, potent chiles, the center as hot and fiery as a sun seen setting through a dust storm. A cheese, pepper, and onion vegetable tamale ($1.50) was gooey, melty, and addictive as any casserole. But when I got the Oaxacan tamale ($2.25), that changed everything. Chicken and coarse corn meal wrapped into a flat pad in a plantain leaf, the whole thing saucy and soaking in a multi-chile-and-pepper mole that was just pulsing with the scent of an entire harvest of ingredients woven into a single bead of intensity--ooh!
If you live in south Minneapolis, I think this tiny, tiny, tamale stand is going to make your life much, much better. If you've got a book club or a church supper or nothing in mind for dinner and a teenager, you're set. La Loma is about three steps from the absolute corner of East Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue South, in the most northeast corner of Mercado Central, the big multi-business development, and you're going to be able to pull up in an illegal parking spot, to the vast embarrassment of young Pouty, and send his or her bepierced self in with a $20 to emerge with a warm plastic bag of tasty things that are so much tastier than the other things you can spend $1.50 on--whoo boy. There are other varieties of tamale that La Loma makes that I'm dying to try, like a chicken mole, and dessert tamales, like raisin (I tried, and could live without, the pineapple one; to me it tasted like a hot fruit cup).
And yet, even as I rhapsodize about the best cheap food to hit south Minneapolis since Jucy met Lucy, one lurking little trouble does occur to me: If I find you putting the corn husks in my rosebushes, you are, as they say, lint-roller tape.
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