This year's scramble for Christmas tamales was closer to home. Once again with all the other holiday preparation to attend to, I failed to place an order in time and had to hit the streets to take my chances on the spot market.
Yesterday I drove out to Alisal (east Salinas) to see what I could turn up. I was relieved to see Julio Valdez's cart on East Market St. by the freeway. It now has the stickers on it for a City business license, County health inspection, etc., so I imagine he'll be here more regularly than in the past.
He was already out of the cheese and jalapeno ones. I got a dozen of pork tamales and three piña for a buck apiece. He also sells chicken tamales and will have elote by late March again.
He has Mexican-style hot dogs, which made the perfect afternoon snack. The bun was soft and hot out of the steamer cabinet. Though the hot dogs wrapped with bacon were pregrilled and kept in a warmer, they had a nice roasted character and crispy well-browned bacon. The condiments, which you add yourself, included chopped pickled jalapenos, tomato, white onion, pickle relish, canned sliced mushrooms (that's a first!), and then ketchup, mustard, and a mayo/crema blend in the squeeze bottles. One thing that another hot dog vendor taught me is to squirt the mayo right on the bacon-swathed dog for the best taste.
A big cup of champurrado to-go kept me warm for the rest of the day's errands. Here are his current phone numbers for special orders.
My brother took the coast route home to Salinas and stopped in Watsonville last night to pick up a pork tamales at D'la Colmena. They're $14 per dozen.
Last night we had a taste test of the fresh tamales. The Valdez product was larger with a thicker masa shell. The masa was smoother with the rich flavor of lard. The masa of the Colmena tamales was lighter colored and fluffier. The Valdez pork filling was shredded and hotter in its spicing. The Colmena pork was still in chunks with some tasty fat bits and had a more direct meat flavor. Not as saucy as I remember, the taste of the roasted chiles was more assertive than the hotness. The Valdez filling had a more harmonious flavor, whereas the Colmena rendition had a layered effect of masa, then sauce, and finally reaching the pork at the core. We liked both but had a slight preference for the richer flavor of the Valdez tamales.
We also tried one of the sweet Valdez piñas. It had chunks of canned pineapple and currants. The masa was a bit dryish and wasn't overly sweetened. We liked this as well.
July 2000 post on D'la Colmena -
[BROKEN LINK REMOVED]
December 2003 post on Julio Valdez -