Friday, June 12, 2015

XXIII. Tamales Calientes!

Hot Tamales!

The Ice cream Man Cometh! His shout is "Nieve nie-VEEES!"
One of the joys and occasional irritants about living here in el centro, right in the middle of this small Mexican town, is the not too often, but regular, loud-voiced commercials from some of the traffic that rattle under our balcony every day. 

My discriminating wife can instantly name the vendor, whether she’s hearing a garbled rasp from a loudspeaker that dangles from the junk man’s bailing-wired-together truck, or the annoying “Happy Chicken” jingle blaring from one of Feliz Pollo's shiny new delivery cars. The only thing that gives her pause is the synthesized "dit-dahta-dahta-dot-dit-dah" chord that precedes both the propane gas and the mango trucks’ further identifying messages.

Gas Milenium wins the prize for catchiest jingle.
Some sellers specialize in guavas, strawberries or cantaloupes, others vend a variety of fruit. One fellow will haul away your junk. There's the roasted yam man with his distinctive whistle. We only occasionally hear, and then see, the fellow selling ice cream; the rest have been coming by most every day. Some you can almost set your reloj by; others, not so much. Most of the automated vendors drive some kind of mid-size 90’s vintage pickup. They all have their distinctive amplified, almost always pre-recorded, ditty or spiel. We especially like the jaunty jingle of one of the other propane gas dealer, punctuated by a stentorious voice announcing “Gas Milenium”, repeated over and over and over and over again until, fortunately, it gets too far away to hear.

This enterprising fellow--hell, they're all enterprising--is selling--
near as we can tell--roasted yams, stoking the fire with sticks of 
wood, heating the canister so he can use the steam inside to blow
a distinctive whistle.
Calls of the tamale vendors come in contrasting styles. There’s the dolorous staticky drone of the woman who sells hers from a big aluminum kettle in the back of a pickup. Her fellow tamale purveyor, though, really does it Old School. He carts a big pot—containing what must be more than a hundred of those plump morsels—in a wheelbarrow, and doesn’t rely on any amplification other than an incredibly loud and piercing voice. His call, “tuh-mah-LAAAAYS” can be heard for blocks.

We love tamales but they’re curiously hard to find in restaurants here. We’ve been meaning to try one of these itinerant vendors for the past couple of weeks. Their early evening schedule seems to vary, though, and we’ve yet to figure out if they come on regular days. Last night we made a deal with ourselves: we’d hold out for one of the vendors until 6:30, and if no one came by then, we’d hie ourselves up and over to Perry’s Pizza about which we’d heard good things.

Six-thirty came and went. We weren’t really so hungry; there’d been a downpour earlier in the day, and we didn’t want to get caught blocks from home in a heavy rain, so we decided to wait a wee bit longer. We were soon rewarded by the faint but distinctive holler of Tamale Man somewhere in the far distance. We didn’t want to take a chance on him selling out or missing our street so I went out looking for him, listening again for his call.

Looking almost as good as Tamale
Man's--these are purloined from the
55 Fresh Farmers Market website. 
I might have passed him by if I hadn’t stopped to chat about Johnny Cash with La Tia’s old hippie barkeep. 

I found TM half a block from the bar, where Morelos runs into the malecón. When I hustled up to him, he was doling out what looked like horchata—a cinnamon rice drink—into a cup for a young man who’d just run out of an abarrotes. I ordered seis tamales, was given the choice of puerco or pollo and took three of each (54 pesos total, or about $3.60US—outstanding deal!).

TM is the type of friendly, smiling guy you’re happy to be doing business with. And the tamales! Dios mio! They are everything you want in that squat tube of piquant goodness. Wrapped in a corn husk, of course, is what you first notice. The masa harina casing is soothing to the soul, moist and perfectly salted. My pork was slow cooked, shredded and lightly seasoned with chiles and a hint of cinnamon. Mamá mía, it was good! 

By acclamation we proclaimed that this would become a once-a-week dinner treat for the two of us. 

UPDATE: A couple days after the tamales, we heard yet another vendor call, "lo-lo-lo-LO-na....lo-na-lo-na-LO-na". It was a fellow walking down the middle of our calle with colorful, grommeted canvas tarps over each shoulder, wearing them like a serape. He was capitalizing on the felt need by some, I am sure, for extra protection after the wakeup call of heavy rains the last two nights. Google Translate tells me lona is Spanish for "tarp".

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