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Tamales

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I went to one of our better Mexican restaurants in Honolulu for lunch on Wednesday. I had a combo with one tamale and one chiie relleno. The service was good, and I really enjoyed my relleno. The tamale on the other hand was not so good. It was served on a corn husk, not wrapped in one, but more to the point the texture was quite odd, very highly compressed, more like fishcake than masa. My friend, who also had the tamale described his as "rubbery."

It looked like they had taken machine made tamale "dough" that had been rolled into sheets, spread a layer of filling on it, then topped it with another layer of dough and sliced it into tamale size slabs. I didn't have my glasses with me, but I looked and on the top piece of dough, I could not see the telltale sign of corduroy-like ribbing that corn husk typically leaves behind.

I was hungry, and while it wasn't good, it wasn't horrible. I didn't really think of complaining till my plate was being cleared. I told the server that I was really disappointed, and contrary to the menu description, it didn't taste anything like something made by someone's abuela - more like a product they had shipped in from a factory far far away. He assured me that it had been made on premises. I replied that it sure didn't seem like it to me, and it was nowhere near as good as other tamales I have had at the same restaurant.

I was pleasantly surprised when the manager came over a few moments later to ask what was wrong. I gave him the same description, and again was assured that it was made in house. He also asked if we wanted a complimentary dessert, which I thought was very generous as my friend and I had eaten the tamales. I declined, and thanked him for the offer.

So how do I tell if a tamale is really "home made" or not? Other tamales I have eaten had a very distinct texture to them. There is a mealiness, a course texture, a lightness that was totally missing in this. It was as if this was made out of a mixture of ultra fine masa harina and flour. It was dense and without texture. Almost like a extra-extra thick noodle. It was the difference between a hand made hamburger patty vs. one stamped out by a machine, or like a machine made pie crust.

Any comments would be appreciated.

Oh, I will be going back. There is a distinct lack of quality Mexican Food in Honolulu. Not only was the rest of my meal very good, but I have no reason to complain about the response of the restaurant - other than being skeptical about their claim that the tamale was made in house in a traditional manner.

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  1. Where did you go? I haven't found any decent Mexican food in Honolulu, so always make my own. If there is a good spot I'd like to know it's name. Mercado de la Raza on Beretania does homemade tamales on, I think, the first and third Saturdays of the month. They're not as good as the ones I make, but then I don't have to spend a weekend making the dozens of tamales that I feel compelled to make whenever I do get inspired. They are good enough that you should order ahead of time so they don't sell out before you get there. i even got their tamales for Xmas one year when I was too sick to make my own.

    I think the lightness of the masa is from lard, so if they use vegetable oil (I've heard of that done!) it'll tend to be rubbery. Oh yeah, and you can also order masa preparado from La Mercado at Xmas, then just goose it up to your specs before you make your tamales. I always add some chili powder, a little more baking powder (more lightness) and knead in extra lard until I get the right taste and consistency.

    1. Tamales are not all made from one recipe. They could have been made in house, and simply not well done ( to your liking.) They could have been pre-fab, but the "in house" claim was false. I've had hundreds of tamales from different sources. Some are horrible and dense, others are fluffy, light, and melt in your mouth. Your description, however, sounds like it was a mass produced product from a tamaleria somewhere.

      1. Kailua Girl, the only two places I like for Mexican food here are Azteca in Kaimuki on Waialae near Koko Head (not to be confused with Jose's where I won't eat) and Mexico Restaurant in Liliha on School Street.

        Thanks for the reaffirmation of my instincts gordeaux. These very much had a mass produced quality.

          1. It's not hard to get a tough or rubbery tamale by adding too much lard or having the dough overly dense. Over cooking doesn't help any either.
            Sadly I've had more like you describe than the kind we all crave. The best I've ever had were made by a young lady from Mexico that used to work for my wife.
            They were just so light fluffy and perfect.
            Making a stellar tamale is not the easiest thing or at least not for me. One of the few things I love to eat and hate to make.
            Here's a link to a recipe you may enjoy. Check out the tip for making sure the consistency of the dough is correct.

            http://www.starchefs.com/james_beard/...