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Tamales for Christmas (Salinas)

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Tamales for Christmas (Salinas)

Melanie Wong | Dec 28, 2003 10:38 PM

A victim of my own poor planning once again, we were still tamale-less the day before Christmas. I’d left the Bay Area too late to pick up any en route in Gilroy from last year’s tamale derby winner.

The sample of El Aguila’s at Thanksgiving didn’t do much for me, so I set off to drive the neighborhoods likely to have tamales for sale and take whatever I could find. My first top was El Charrito Market on W. Market St. across from Sacred Heart School, mostly because a banner outside promoted tamales. But, alas, inside there was but a single lonely chicken tamale and a few sweet tamales under the heat lamps. I grabbed them, and also a small burrito with costellitas de puerco en chile that was VERY spicy and very good with just the braised meat, refritos and salsa. However, tasting the tamales later that night, they seemed to be spoiled. The chicken one was dry and stringy and had a weird fishy taste – William and I both spit out the first bite and then washed out our mouths, plates and forks, and the sweet ones made with elote had a sour-ish fermented off-flavor so those went down the garbage disposal too.

Anyway, after El Charrito, I headed toward the east side of town to the area where we’d found five taco trucks last month. Not a single taco truck in sight at 1pm and the markets in the neighborhood were starting to shut down. Things were looking bleak.

But then I spotted a small push cart just beyond the shadows of the freeway on-ramp in front of a vacant store. A cart specializing in tamales, no less! A very nice one too, with multiple stainless steel shelves stacked with tamales kept hot and fresh with steam. The tamales are $1 each, and a big cup of steaming hot champurrado is $1.50. Mr. Valdez, the owner, said he’s there every day and will make special orders for parties and other events.

The champurrado was terrific with a moderate amount of chocolate, but with the special taste of dark piloncillo to add the extra depth and near tropical note. The pork tamales were very good and meaty with good kick. The style of masa is smooth and fine-textured and holds together to eat out of hand, yet still pretty light and fluffy. The tamales de rajas were even better with a long single strip of hot chili and stringy cheese. William noted that the pepper was medium hot yet had real persistence, leaving a lasting heat on the tip of the tongue. The tamales de piña were already sold out. But I was more than happy with the tamales dulces with dark cinnamon-scented masa and plump raisins. The crumbly, moist texture reminded William of a muffin.

Mr. Valdez’ tamales are highly recommended. Here’s his contact information.

Julio Valdez
“Rico Tamal”
Licensed cart on the corner of Merced and E. Market just west of Hwy 101
831-235-6780
831-424-5614

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