The Tamalada: Part 1 – The Quest for Ingredients

I’m having a tamalada tomorrow and, as I’ve invited about 30 people, have tons to do to get ready for it. A tamalada is a tamale-making party. Usually it’s with family and they all pitch in with both work and money to make dozens of tamales and each person gets to take some home. My roommate Rachel and I are throwing this one for friends as a kind of holiday present.

I had it in my head to do some of pork, beef, chicken, cheese and chile, strawberry or pineapple ones, maybe even some coconut ones. Some of the people coming have never been to a tamalada before, nor have they made tamales so I wanted it to be special. Most people here are used to beef, pork or chicken tamales but don’t know just how diverse tamales can be. Just yesterday my friend Frank was telling me about his brother-in-law’s incredible tamales de atun (fresh caught tuna tamales) with cilantro and tomato.

Early this morning my daughter-in-law Marissa and I drove into downtown Los Angeles to get flowers for decorations as well as ingredients for the tamales I plan to make. It was a cold morning and the grandkids were bundled up in their car seats excited to be having an almost dawn adventure with Mom and Grammy. We cranked up the heater and left Eagle Rock, taking the streets through Highland Park, then Lincoln Heights turned on Broadway to Alameda and headed into the downtown Warehouse District.

Our first stop was the Flower Market. We parked the car, pulled the stroller out of the trunk and started walking down the heavily perfumed street to the Los Angeles Flower Market. I wanted some fresh flowers for the house but wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted. All I knew was that you can’t beat the prices at the Flower Market. I left the choice to Jasmine who chose clover, dahlias, white roses, pink orchids and birds of paradise. She was feeling a little exotic, I guess. She also begged me to buy plastic bags of red and white rose petals for sprinkling. Needless to say I bought them.

After the Flower Market, we loaded up the car and then headed back down the street to Operetta, a small French café and bakery right across the street from the market for breakfast. Marissa and I had much need coffee, (me a latte and she a mocha), the kids had hot chocolate. We ordered a big breakfast and tucked in because we knew we had a long, hard day ahead of us.

We left Operetta warm and happy. One more trip into the Flower Market to pick up a wreath and then off we drove down Alameda to Central and the Warehouse District.

In the Warehouse District are all the grocery, produce, meat and seafood suppliers. You can get great deals for bulk items and, if you’re anything like me, you can bargain for better prices. The customer service is amazing and well worth the trip downtown. Where else can you buy 60 pounds of corn husks at bargain basement prices and have a nice man carry it for you the three blocks to your car? Where else can you shop and have nice people pack your trunk for you so that everything fits, then help you back out of a crowded and tight parking lot? The customer service is of the courtly old-fashioned Mexican variety and I revel in it.

My daughter-in-law Marissa is a trooper. She had never been down to the Warehouse District, which can be a little off-putting as you drive through some of the seedier parts of downtown. Parking is always a challenge and she was completely unflappable. You’d have thought she had been doing this all her life.

My granddaughter Jasmine was completely amazed by the great quantities of things but she stuck to me like glue and was absorbing everything with great interest, especially the haggling part. I am my father’s daughter – he loved to haggle and so do I, even when I know the prices are set. I still try. Marissa says I’m incorrigible but she laughs when she says it and I know she means she’s impressed. I haggled over tomatoes, chiles both dried and fresh. I got a deal on tamale cans and had a great time buying and negotiating price.

About an hour and a half later, we left the Warehouse District with a packed car and really tired kids. We drove home and unpacked the car, then set off again for more errands.

From Eagle Rock to Glendale, Glendale to Highland Park, Highland Park to Lincoln Heights and back again we collected tejocotes, guayabas (guavas), cana (sugar cane), raspberries, fresh figs, pork, onions, garlic, bay leaves, pineapple, coconut milk, ajonjolli (sesame seeds), nutmeg and various other odds and ends. At the end of the day, we had everything we needed and were ready to start in on the preparations for the tamalada.

My house looked something like a warehouse itself…

Bags of pork and dried chiles Californias

Tomatoes, pineapple and lots of garlic

Chiles Pasillas

Can’t make tamales without garlic

Too many tomatoes? No such thing.

This is one tired, but very sweet daughter-in-law.

Isn’t she beautiful?

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One thought on “The Tamalada: Part 1 – The Quest for Ingredients

  1. Wow girl you were on a mission i need to get to know you and hang out with you out in downtown i went but didn’t know exactly where to go and buy stuff i did find some goodies though.

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