I know I owe you guys a bunch of recipes from last week’s Tamalada, but I’ve been very busy and haven’t had time to write them down, or post anything for that matter. This week I’ll post some of them, I promise. But before that I want to talk about a great event I attended last Tuesday. It was another tamalada (yes, I’ve been eating a lot of tamales lately) organized by the group of SlowFood Mexico. This event is held every year for Candelaria day and this year I had the opportunity to be part of it. I learned a lot of things about Mexican food, tamales and I also met some of the people involved in the movement that is giving Mexican food a lot of promotion internationally.
The event started at 7 pm, but we got there a little earlier and the table was ready to receive the tamales and atoles that would feed the crowd. After mingling and meeting some people, we heard a little presentation by José Iturriaga de la Fuente, researcher and member of El Laboratorio del Gusto. He talked about the importance of tamales in Mexican cuisine. They are a main item of our cuisine and culture. They are the main dish served for Candelaria (with is celebrated 40 days after Christmas when Mary lighted candelas, candles to present his son, Jesus, in the Jerusalem temple) and Día de Muertos, when tamales are the main dish served to the departed ones.
This was an special occasion because some of the people involved in presenting the research to the UNESCO to designate Mexican food as a cultural heritage were present. Iturriaga thanked these people for their effort and hard work. UNESCO did designate Mexican cuisine, along with French traditional food, as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage in November 2010. He said that tamales were a factor of our national identity and a good example of the diversity of our country. Mexico is 4th place in biodiversity and 2nd in cultural diversity in the world. And a good example of this is the tamales they served that night from different regions of the country. For example, toropinto, saffron and cambray from Chiapas; chicken and pork form Veracruz; corundas from Michoacan and zacahuil from San Luis Potosi.
Margarita Carrillo de Salinas, one of the women involved in the UNESCO research and a great chef and lovely person, talked about this last tamal from San Luis Potosi. This Mexican state is part of la Huasteca region and each state of this region has a different way to make them. “Traditionally, tamal preparation is a woman’s job”, Margarita said. “However, men participate in the preparation of this particular tamal because of its size. Men prepare, wrap and bake this tamal that can feed a big crowd and it’s made for special occasions like weddings, births and funerals.
The passion that Margarita has for Mexican food is evident. Besides being part of the research team for the UNESCO proposal, she wrote a cookbook with 400 recipes for tamales and atoles that the publishing house rejected for being too big. She had to reduce the number of recipes to 140, but she promised us that there will be more volumes. “Tamales”, she also said, “are an ecological product. The wrappers are always a biodegradable item, banana leaves, tree leaves, corn husks, and you don’t even need a fork to eat them. I’ve seen very skilled wrist movements to eat the last bit of a tamal.”
Mexican food is festive and part of our daily lives. We eat tamales for special occasions and holidays, but we don’t need a special reason to eat them. They’re easily available everywhere in the country, and not only in Mexico. Every single country in Latin America has a kind, or many, of tamal. Many of them are called differently, but we all share this common food. “Our traditions”. Margarita concluded, “is what save us from globalization. It doesn’t matter what religion or race you are or if you are rich or poor. We all eat tamales on February 2nd. And that is something we all should very proud of.”
And the moment to taste all the different kinds of tamales they brought finally arrived. I really don’t care how many calories I ate that night. I tried so many different kinds of tamales that I had never even heard of before including shrimp, zacahuil, prune… some were spicy and some sweet. Some were very moist and some dry. Some were wrapped in corn husks and others in banana and oak leaves. Some where very small and many of them very big. And not to mention the atoles. The best one I had was an atole negro (black) made with burnt cocoa bean peels and corn masa (like atole is supposed to be made).
At the end of the night we were stuffed, but very happy. This convivium of Slow Food Mexico did a a great job and I had the opportunity to meet great people, including Rubi Silva, a chef of Los Marisoles restaurant in Morelia Michoacan. She brought the Michoacan tamales including the oak leaf ones you see in the first picture. I also met one of the biggest food personalities in Mexico, Chepina Peralta. I remember listening to her radio show with my mom when I was a kid. She’s such a lovely person. It was indeed, a night to remember.