The Tamale Lady is Still in Front of Mexican Embassy
Not long ago, I began my quest to try all the tamales midtown has to offer by starting off at Sophie’s and trying a Cuban style tamale for the first time. Zach went on a similar tamale trek in 2008, and I’m excited to revisit midtown tamales four years later to see what’s still delicious and what’s new. I was fortunate enough to get some excellent recommendations from Midtown Lunch readers in the comments of my last post, and one comment inspired me to visit the “Tamale Lady” outside of the Mexican Embassy (39th Street btw Madison + Park). She received a proper review back in 2007, and the experience sounded like fun. Is she still there? I had to find out for myself.
I convinced a coworker to come along in search of the tamale lady on a swelteringly hot day, but I warned her… I was worried our lady and her tamales might not be there if the embassy isn’t open. Also, with all the regulations street vendors and restaurants face in New York City, I suspect she has taken some hell over the years. But we turned the corner saw a figure of a woman with an umbrella. Was this a mirage rendered by the heat rising from the sidewalks? I almost didn’t believe it, but there she was.
So yes, the tamale lady is still in business, and she ain’t kiddin’ around. She is the real deal. She has no sign, just a tiny cart, a huge pot of tamales, and an umbrella. She speaks little English, so you should be prepared to order with your broken Spanish if you don’t speak fluently. At $2.00 a tamale, her prices have gone up in the past few years, but they’re still better than any I’ve seen yet. And the food is authentic — these lovely treats give you a deeper understanding of how the phrase “hot tamale” came about.
As I approached, I kept in mind that my Spanish is infantile at its best. Somehow I deciphered that my choices were queso (cheese) or pollo (chicken) — I asked for one of each. I was very concerned that the tamales wouldn’t be hot enough, so I clumsily asked for salsa picante (hot sauce). All I could get from her reply was the word “preparado”, and that made me think, it’s prepared inside the tamale. Awesome.
We got back to the office and tucked in. The tamales were wonderful balls-o-corn-dough goodness speckled with land mines of intense heat. The chicken tamale had large chunks of meat that were a smidge dry, but flavored with a salsa verde that made the overall tamale both spicy and moist. I’ve included a picture for size, but remember that the masa dough is dense, and you will feel like there’s a cannonball in your stomach after two or three.
The cheese tamales had a squeaky quality with chunks of salsa roja and chile peppers as large as my thumb. Our reactions were similar. YOWSERS, this tamale lady REALLY ain’t kiddin’ around with the heat, and my tongue is going to be blistering for a while. Get the half-and-half outta the tiny office refrigerator and pour it in my mouth, stat.
Folks, the burning heat of Mexican dishes are the reason I love the authentic cuisine and keep coming back for more. I was well pleased with my capsaicin-rich meal. If you can take the heat, take the journey to see the tamale lady.
The Tamale Lady outside the Mexican Embassy, 27 E. 39th St. (btw. Mad+Park)