Ok, two days have past and I'm still savoring happy taste memories (and take-outs) from the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Tamale Festival, which took place this past weekend (Nov. 10-12) in MacArthur Park (Alvarado & 7th) in the East Los Angeles area. Mama's Hot Tamale Cafe , one of the principal backers of this event, is located on that block.
Being a 3-time goer of the Indio Tamale Festival (a good two hours drive away), I'm glad that finally there's one going on much closer to home (and I'm sure many Angelenos feel the same way.) However, being only in its second year -- the event is still in its infancy and nowhere close to the size and popularity of the Indio Festival (which will be doing it's 15th Annual this year.) Compared to Indio's 50+ tamale vendors covering a few blocks, this one only took one side of a block, and I don't think there are even 10 tamale boothes.
But I figured there are probably masa-coated gems to be had here, so on a foodventure I went. First stop - the store behind it all - Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe!
They were selling a variety of Mexican foods and an interesting selection of tamales, with various regional variations (with their respective chilies, moles and sauces) and some contemporary ones (I recall one made with a guava filling). Being my first tamale of the day, I got something a bit more traditional -
Adobo Beef - with some kickass oregano flavors, juicy beefiness and a spice level that left my tongue tingling with glee. The masa is a bit on the dry side - perhaps inadequately wrapped or a steamer that's low on water? Nonetheless, after tasting I bought more to take home - upon revisiting with my own re-heating, the masa was moist and soaked up all that great beef & adobo marinade flavors.
Second stop, Gourmet Tamales - where I got a slightly-offbeat Pork Verde Tamale:
Even though the masa-to-meat ratio is a bit higher than what I would've preferred, the masa in this sucker is so moist and fluffy, every bite reminiscent of a pillowy gnocchi. The pork was a delightful surprise, evoked the lime-tangy and mildly hot verde sauce - which also made this extra-carb-loaded tamale light-tasting and easy on the stomach.
While looking for a dessert tamale to finish off (pineapple seems to be pre-dominant one here,) I passed by this joint:
Where the lady boasted winning the Tamale Contest for this festival (and a 3rd place winner @ Indio in '04) and that it's a must-try. I took a look at the short and simple ingredient list - which included shortening. OK - I'm sold, and I bought two frozen pork & red chili ones to take home - and boy were they good. The shredded pork practically falls apart without any chewing, and the added fats made this tamale particularly filling. Just one and I'm done!
A finally, a sweet ending - at one of my favorite LA-based tamale vendors: Corn Maiden.
Specializing in Euro-Mex foods, they have a share of traditional-style tamales, but it's their eccentric fusion stuff that I love best from this place - such as sweet yellow corn-cheddar tamales with a tomatillo sauce & lobster with ginger & coconut. And of course, my dessert favorite-
Belgian chocolate with caramelized walnuts & raspberries - every forkful is heavenly - sometimes a chunk of crunchy walnuts, other times the aromatic tang of raspberries, and just subtle-but-noticeable chocolate nuances throughout, a wondrous experience I attribute to the clever design of this tamale with the "filling" being more-or-less distributed throughout the masa.
For a fair that's still starting out, they definitely pick out some winners for their boothes (and a relatively inexpensive foodventure, with everything costing $2-3 a pop) - and even though I will continue hauling my ice chest to the Indio festival, I will definitely add this on my epicurean calendar (and hope that it becomes as vast, popular and tasty.)