Consider the Tamale
Raised on johnnycake, scrapple, spoonbread, hush puppies, grits–the uses of cornmeal (which, by itself, is rather bland) are many in a Southern household–I was transformed by my first tamale. Here, at last, was cornmeal mush cooked with something tasty inside. Revelation!
Actually, “mush” isn’t fair to the tamale, that most noble of salsa delivery vehicles. Masa cornmeal congeals into an impeccable envelope, wrapped around fillings and steamed in husks or banana leaves (much like our laulau).
Here in Honolulu you can have them oversauced and undistinguished at a “Mexican” restaurant, or you can head for Mercado de la Raza on South Beretania Sreet, where the imperious Martha Sanchez enforces a tamale curfew of sorts–hers, the best hand-mades around, are only available on the first and last Saturdays of the month. This means you’ll have to be ready to scarf them in your car (recommended, at least for numero uno) or at home. Nothing wrong with that.
Tamales in the fridge equal security; they’re so easily customized by sauces, salsas and even salads. In fact, if you have a yenta for polenta, just ladle on some Hamakua mushrooms sautéed in butter and close your eyes: Mama mia, you’re in Italy! Or South Kohala.
The Mercado was closed last week, but re-opened on Jan. 26 with the usual suspects in beef, pork (the fave), green chile (fave of faves) and chicken.Mercado de la Raza, 1315 S. Beretania St., Sat., 10am–5pm, $14.50 for 6, [mercadodelaraza.com], 593-2226