A reader is looking for tamales, which is not unusual at this time of year. Tamales are as much a tradition at Christmas in some parts of the U.S. as eggnog is in others. Tamales, though, are eaten throughout the year.
Assembling tamales is labor intensive. The masa mixture is spread evenly on one section of a soaked corn husk (more common in northern Mexico and Mexican-American neighborhoods) or banana leaves (more commonly found in some regions of Latin America including the Yucatan). Then a filling of chicken, beef, pork, cheese, chilies or a combination is added. The husk, or leaf, is rolled tightly, usually less than two inches in diameter, and then set upright in a steamer. Dozens of tamales are required to keep them stable and upright. Since this dish is labor intensive, many families — especially the female members of the family — share this activity, called a tamalada, during the holidays. At Christmas, tamales are traditionally eaten after midnight mass.
Tamales are available as a menu item in numerous restaurants in the Charlotte area; however, to buy tamales in any large quantity, try the ready-made food section at the rear of Compare Food Store (818 East Arrowood Road, 704-716-1170). Their leaf-wrapped tamales are $1.50 each, made fresh daily, and are available everyday throughout the year without a special order. Compare sells frozen tamales wrapped in corn husks in their freezer area.
A better quality tamal is crafted by restaurateur Fausta Salvitierra. Her corn husk tamales are made to order at Cocina Latina (5135 Albemarle Road, 704-531-5757). One dozen is $12.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-522-8334, extension 136.