Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Street Tamales in Berkeley

Tired of Farmer's market indulgences and artisan style street food at gourmet prices I just about had a heart attack the other day when I came across a tamale vendor in the parking lot outside the Berkeley Bowl. I thought I was having another round of audio hallucinations when I heard the sound that make my heart leap. "Tamales! Tamales!" A quick glance up and I saw a sign that said something like "Ojo! Tamales! $1 each/12X10" This was cause for celebration!

Two women hold the fort down at the minivan tamales mobile. I bought a chicken and a cheese tamal. They ladies pressed me to buy one more with pineapple at which I told them I had no more money. Always a good move when unwanted but cheap merchandised is presented to the buyer. After a brief conversation, they threw a sweet pineapple tamal in for free. I will be back. Contrast this to the lady at the farmers market who shorted me and asked if she could owe me five cents. Some vendors just know how to endear themselves to the customers, while others... oh never mind.

I got home and unwrapped the chicken tamal. It was moist with a nice consistency. Not too firm, not too mushy. I'm not certain if they had lard in them as just about all real tamales do, but they were not lacking in richness as most Bay Area farmers market tamales often are. Contrary to the present conventional wisdom, lard is in fact our friend.
Ahem. I ate and ate, and forgot to get a shot of the innards until it was almost gone. I guess this is a fitting shot.

After finishing off the savory tamales, I dug into the sweet pineapple tamal.
This was nice but unnecessary. Sweet, with small pieces of pineapple throughout. Would have been nice with a coffee, atol, or arroz con leche. An ideal comfort food on a cold night.

I'm really happy to have met these tamale ladies. They have filled a nice void we previously had in the area. We have a lot of Latinos in the area, but the prevalence of gringo tamales at the farmers markets are getting me down. Their steep price and repackaging for the oh so sophisticated Bay Area elite is a sight to behold. Maybe I've written it before, but it's worth repeating: I like my street food from the street and am weary to say the least of paying up for its inferior bastard cousin at a market or in a restaurant. Tamales are a much enjoyed snack in Mexico and further south as well. All over our southern neighbor I have enjoyed them for pocket change. Socioeconomic inequality aside, they are a cheap, simple snack. If I want a comida, I get a comida. If I want a little snack I get a tamal. It's that simple. This isn't fancy food. This isn't complicated food. Whatever labor is associated with forming and wrapping them is offset by the low cost of ingredients and recouped in volume produced. A good tamale vendor doesn't need a restaurant or even a store front. All you need is a basket or maybe a cooler. Or maybe even a minivan.

I worry about the future of our tamale ladies. Do they have the proper permits? I hope so but have my doubts.

Get your hot tamales before some uptight business owner or concerned citizen of Berkeley gets my new friends shut down on trumped up health code violations.

Tamales out of the Back of a minivan
Parking lot right outside of Berkeley Bowl
2020 Oregon St
Berkeley, CA 94703
10AM-6PM Monday through Saturday?


Robyn said...

I love tacos but for me tamales are Number 1. A friend of my parents' always sends over a bushel of her homemade tamales when I visit. Sigh.
You should get their phone numbers, just in case they disappear. Tamales freeze exceptionally well. :-)

Robert H said...

I grew up in San Diego. We used to get door to door tamale service on a weekly basis at most of my jobs. It is the kind of thing that is so common, you don't really appreciate it at the time. I really miss those damn things.