It was one of those perfectly glorious Oaxaca days.
Our walking destination: corner of Calle Armenta y Lopez and Calle Cristobal Colon on the southwest side of the Zocalo. There on the southwest corner, tucked into the shade of the Parisina building protected from the strong Oaxaca sun, is perhaps the best tamale stand in all of Oaxaca city.
Who says so? The people who line up everyday starting at two o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes the line snakes halfway down the block. The busiest times are from two to four in the afternoon, when most locals take their lunch. Eating on the street is a Mexican tradition.
For me, tamales are right up there with Oaxaca’s famed seven moles. Here at this little corner of heaven is a selection of ten different tamales: mole negro wrapped in banana leaf, cheese with squash blossom, spicy green chile with chicken, raja chile (sliced jalapeño) with chicken, yellow mole, red mole, spicy red mole, bean, chipil, sweet with pineapple and raisins, and corn kernels.
Customers are loyal and keep coming back.
Why do you like these tamales? I ask the patient man waiting his turn. Estan muy rico — they are very good — he answers, emphasizing the very, and then adds, and they are big.
Another hears my question and adds, Si, muy rico. Riccisimo. El mejor de Oaxaca. The best of Oaxaca. There is an echo as I hear muy rico repeated among the crowd, like a chant in the round.
Indeed they are big. The tamales are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves depending on the variety, each giving the masa a distinctive flavor. They are plump filled with lots of steamed ground corn, lots of salsa or mole, and either chicken, cheese, pork or herbs.
Note: Most of Oaxaca corn is organic, and there is social/political resistance to Monsanto and genetically modified versions coming in. Original corn is astoundingly flavorful, nutty, crunchy, delicious and nutritious.
It takes the Dueña at least five hours daily to make a fresh batch of each variety which she transports to the corner every day except Mondays. She is there promptly at two o’clock in the afternoon and closes at eight o’clock at night, sometimes earlier if she sells out. People gather to wait for her opening.
Today I bought at least one of every variety to take home and serve at a gathering of friends this Sunday afternoon. I don’t think I could put out a tastier spread!
Special thanks to Stephen for this discovery and introducing me to these delicious tamales.
My confession is that even after a hefty lunch elsewhere, when the Dueña offered me a taste of the frijol tamale with a touch of hierba santa slathered with a picante salsa, I could not resist. I added my own muy rico y mil gracias.