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Eric & Sherrell
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Posted on Tuesday Nov 23, 2010
One of the great glories of Huatulco has been the corn tamales (tamales de elote). They used to be everywhere. Old women would walk the streets of the town with large baskets of them on their heads selling them for 3 for 10 pesos (about $0.80).
Three years ago we had our favorite old lady we would buy from and they were to die for. Die! Time and progress has intervened. Our vendor has faded into obscurity and no one wants just a plain corn tamal anymore. Now all the tamales are filled with crap like chicken, shrimp, pineapple, strawberries, cheese.
Trying to find a plain corn tamal was futile. I went to the one official "tamaleria" (tamale store) and demanded tamales de elote. A woman at a nearby table overheard me and shouted out, "Hey he's pure Mexican! Where are the tamales de elote?! Hahaha!"
So we continued our search. Where are the old ladies? What's happening to this place? It turns out there is a specific "Tamal Time Slot" when vendors roam the streets selling tamales. It varies depending on whom you ask, but the general idea is 10am to 11am then again at 5pm to 6pm. By chance we were in town at 11am one day and found a bicycle cart vendor selling his Tamales! Joy! Tamales de Elote here we come. No go. He has stuffed his tamales full of all kinds of animal products or cheese. Crap! What's a vegan got to do these days for some real food?
He stood there looking confused, probably thinking, "How could these gueros not want chicken? Everybody wants chicken." So we gave him the spiel...no meat, no animal, no chicken, no fish, no shrimp, no cheese, no lard. What on Earth happened to the classic elote? He smiled and said something incomprehensible. It sounded like Tamales de Chepil.
We looked at each other. We know lots and lots of Spanish words, but he blew us away with that one. So we verified this Chepil wasn't an animal or some odd cheese product and he pulled one out and unwraped it. Sure enough. Green, leafy. Definitely plant like.
The flavor! Oh my! Chepil is a small leafy herb that has a light flavor that I found was a bit like spinach. The tamales were fantastic! We ate 4 of them. While not quite as good as elote, but we were hooked.
Today we decided for one last splurge. We rowed into the beach. Walked into town and proceeded to comb the streets for Tamales de Chepil. Nothing. Nada. We checked the time, hmmm after 11am. Damn. The tamales had evaporated into the void.
Sigh. So to make up for our disappointment we decided to one up the splurge from 4 tamales for 20 pesos to a full on lunch at the only vegetarian cafe in town (For those coming to visit Huatulco go behind the Super Che and you'll see a hotel with VEGETARIANO in neon). The chef there makes his own breads and he has talent! This place is priced right so for 107 pesos we had an all homemade veggie burger and curry vegetables (not traditional curry vegetables but still tasty).
I still want to know why everyone is too hip for tamales de elote.... And how do I get some more Tamales de Chepil?!
(FYI - some tamales are made with lard, others are cheaper and go with vegetable shortening--go cheap. Also in Spanish tamal is singular for English word tamale.)