Where and Where Not to Buy Tamales for Home Cooking

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It’s a question that everyone inevitably asks themselves, from the lowliest chimney sweep to the wealthiest tycoon: “Where should I buy tamales for tamale Tuesday?” No one wants to go to all the work of shucking and grinding corn, making tortillas and cheese, harvesting and preparing vegetables, slaughtering livestock and cooking meat — this is America, after all, the land of getting someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. On the other hand, you can’t just trust any ol' tamale, that’s for sure. A tamale is a finely crafted piece of culinary art, not something someone can just toss together, like a chili-cheese dog. Well, put your mind at ease, tamale enthusiasts, and read on to find out where (and where not) to get your fix.

Tucson Tamale

Tucson Tamale Company is based in Tucson, Arizona (huge shock, I know), but everyone can enjoy its authentic treats. These tamales are handmade based on old family traditions that, according to the company’s Website, may or may not involve five cases of beer per day. No, the company doesn’t offer a beer tamale. But hopefully the people making them are having as much fun as the people eating them. Tucson Tamale prides itself on healthy, sensible food. It uses mild, New Mexico chili peppers (which, for Tucson, is basically local) and forgo lard. It also uses a process called, nixtamalization, to get the maximum nutritional content out of the corn that is used. All of the ingredients are non-GMO and gluten free. These tamales can be found throughout North America at co-ops, as well as local, regional, and national grocery stores, like Whole Foods. You can also order them directly from the company’s Website, which features nearly two dozen kinds of tamales and tamale accessories.

Delia’s Tamales

Although Delia’s is now a six-restaurant chain scattered across five towns in the very southernmost cockles of Texas, its roots are far humbler. Delia’s story began in her own kitchen and on the street, where she would lug coolers around, selling tamales door to door. As her client base grew, so did Delia’s operation. Today, she is a veritable tamale magnate. Sadly, Delia doesn’t do door-to-door delivery anymore. But if, for whatever inconceivable reason, you don’t feel like driving all the way to one of the southernmost parts of the United States to grab a quick bite, you can still get her delicious tamales delivered. The restaurants’ Website offers a variety of frozen tamales by the dozen at reasonable prices.

Worst Tamales Ever?

How can tamales be considered inedible? According to an extensive Google search, the worst tamales in the world are to be had in Gardena, California, at a little eatery called Diana’s Market and Deli. Based on reviews, Diana’s tamales are overwhelmingly composed of soggy cornmeal with a green chili and cheese mixture that somehow manages to incorporate potatoes, which is neither a cheese nor a pepper. So, these tamales are probably to be avoided. Luckily, Diana doesn’t appear to deliver or distribute, which makes not eating these atrocities much easier.

Honorable Mention

When traveling, we are often confronted with rustic, rural culinary customs. There are many, many modes and varieties of tamales. There is one pitfall, however, that the adventuring tamale eater must be particularly wary of: the bone-in tamale. Yes, you occasionally encounter such a tamale, often of the chicken variety, that still contains bones. Tread — and chew — softly, adventuring tamale taster. But everyone else can rest easy, for you now know the best and the worst that the world of tamales has to offer. Let there be no doubt, you are now a master of your own Mexican home-dining experience, armed as you are with this extensive knowledge about tamales.