24 December 2012

The miracle of the tamales

When asked to describe me, a variety of words/descriptors might come to mind, several of which may not be printable in a family-friendly venue such as the Den. That said, one of the words that I don't think is top of mind when describing me is 'sentimental.'

I'm not particularly sentimental, nor am I a slave to tradition. Except when it comes to Cinco de Mayo and Christmas.  Could there be two less similar days? Yes and no. So what's the link? The food. In the Den, Christmas is another reason to celebrate the glory that is Mexican food*. A key part of that celebration is the tamale. For years now, I've been responsible for getting the tamales on the Christmas table. There is something very special about a tamale at Christmas.  Here's some insight as to why from the good people at the New York Times. In southern California, that was never a challenge. It was overflowing in tamale goodness. In the 'burbs of Chicago, it got a little more challenging, but all was well once I discovered multiple options in Aurora and Pilsen.  It was awesome and made for memorable meals, year after year.

Since moving to New England, I knew tamales were going to present a problem. For about the past week, I've been searching, to no avail. This is what happens when you live in the heart of "Connecticut Yankee" country. I mean this is where people wear pants with whales printed on them without a hint of irony. Believe you me when I say tamales aren't on a lot of folks' menu here.

I would not be deterred. I embarked on the final phase of my Yelp-guided journey this morning. After finding two of the suggested places closed, I sent out a despondent desperate message on Facebook. It wasn't a message. It was a cry, a plea, for help. Within minutes, the beginnings of a miracle began to unfold. A post from my Bishop's ('bishop' is my local ecclesiastical leader - this man is great, I mean he has a 'Nixon Now' bumper sticker on his car) wife (a fellow anti-Mittite), pointing me to an area of Hartford that would fit the bill, with the hopeful words that there was still time to get the blessed tamales. This was now hour four of my fruitless search and I hightailed it towards Hartford.

In short order, I found El Mercado. I also found that parking was at a premium, particularly where I could keep one eye on the car. I mean I was in the good car. Had I been in the Boy's car or the mini-van, I wouldn't have been so vigilant. I made multiple rounds of the block, searching for that parking spot. My search for a parking spot was fruitless and I was beginning to doubt that the search would be fulfilled.  It was then that I turned down a new street when I came upon this:

El Sarape Restaurante
Se vende tamales

Parking was available smack in front of the restaurant.  The sign, declaring that they sold tamales, drew me in like a moth to the flame. And right in front me, there they were. Tamales - pork and chicken - just waiting for me to buy them. I swear I heard an angelic choir singing as I gazed upon them. I think it was actually the theme song to the novela that was on the TV in the kitchen, but it was angelic all the same. A dozen of them were purchased and I was back in my car and on the way home in no time. For me, it was a miracle.

OK, miracle may be a stretch. More of a #firstworldproblem silliness, but for someone who is decidedly unsentimental, finding these tamales was awesome. It means a tradition I cling to will go on. It's something my family looks forward to and it will be great to be together tomorrow as we dive into this meal.

* - Don't get me wrong - we are keenly aware of the true reason for the season - celebrating the birth of our Savior. I so look forward to celebrating His birth tomorrow with my family. He is the real miracle of this season.


Ben said...

I miss the tamales in Panama. At every house we'd been given one. (or two). I haven't had one in years.


Monty Newlin said...

I'm so touched! You were like one of the Magi, following the star wherever it went, until you found your Christmas (well, actually, your Epiphany) treasure, where you fell to your knees in gratitude! We need to make a holiday TV special about another Christmas miracle!

It's a tamale, my friend. Let it go! :)