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Heavenly Tamale

Jeremy Osner | Nov 21, 2000 03:16 PM

For three years I've been a faithful customer of the tamale lady who stands in front of the 74th Street station in Jackson Heights -- her tamales de mole are so wonderful that in all that time I have never moved beyond them to sample her other offerings. But that is changed now, because last week I tried a tamale de salsa verde and one de rajas, which I think means cactus.

The salsa verde was really good; but the rajas was a radically satisfying experience, more like a really good book than just another foodstuff. The filling is intensely spicy; but if you eat a tamale like I do, starting at one end and working to the other end (and I can't really think of any other sensible order in which to eat a tamale), you will be well into the filling before you realize your mouth is on fire. This is because the corn shell has such an overwhelmingly deep flavor -- it's like your eating the world -- so you eat one end of the tamale (basically all shell) and midway through the middle (mostly filling) you are still trying to sort out all the flavors and nuances of the corn; gradually you notice that the flavor of chile pepper is growing in prominence, soaring, exploding... But keep eating (pausing if necessary for the hiccups to subside) because soon you will be back into the oceanic mellowness of the other end (again, mostly shell) and the flames will die out; their embers will linger and intermingle...

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