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.