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[Mis]Adventures in making tamales

 

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It has been the most amazing experience having Marcos here the last two weeks. Adventures have been many, mishaps have been few and laughs have been constant.

We recently journeyed to Northern California to visit my family. After witnessing the heartwarming welcome Marcos received and the interest and curiosity about his culture and life, we decided to prepare a traditional  Oaxacan dinner for my family.

Easier said than done. The possibilities were endless and the availability of a decent Mexican food market was disappointingly slim. Tamales seemed easy enough while still being a very special food in Oaxaca.

We would complete the authenticity by serving homemade guacamole and agua de jamaica (hibiscus punch).

The first stop was the mercado. My pleasure was palpable as we amicably argued about what ingredients we would need. This culminated in a long distance call to Marcos’ mother Juana in Teotitlan for her tamale recipe while crouched down by the masa (cornmeal) in an aisle designed to stupefy my less adventurous gringa instincts.

After a conversation spoken so quickly I could hardly follow a syllable, it seemed we had our recipe. We purchased chicken breast, tomatoes, red onion and jalapeños, and some avocado and chips for my own homemade guacamole recipe. A quick and good spirited argument over why we couldn’t use blue maza instead of the plain white variety did not derail our ambitions.

Once to my brother’s house, preparation began in earnest. I had no idea how involved and time consuming tamales are! Considering the   nanoseconds it takes me to consume them. Boiling the chicken breast, preparing the maza and corn husks, sautéing the vegetables, were just the start of a process that must contain as much patience as it does flavor. We still hadn’t even actually made the tamales.

Now it became apparent that Juana’s instruction over our shoulders would have been very helpful.

The first few tamales were a sight. Scrawny, semi-miserable specimens. But by the fourth or fifth try we got into the swing of it. We wrapped thirty-some odd tamales. Marcos was convinced that my family’s appetites would match those of his. I wasn’t convinced.

After steaming the tamales for an hour and half, in which time I whipped up my guacamole and the agua de jamaica, dinner was ready.

My family proved our efforts were not in vain. Even my father, a notoriously picky eater, who disdains spiciness, even in the most modest quantities, could not get his fill.

After lively discussion on the differences of cultural food, our realization that as Americans we have almost none, and sidesplitting laughter over my brothers attempts at broken Spanish, food coma ensued. We were all pleasantly tired. Stuffed with good times and, if I do say so myself, some pretty wonderful Oaxacan food. Satisfecho.

tamales

tamales

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