My sublet in New York wasn’t ready to move into until yesterday, so I’ve been staying with the supremely generous Aunti Pasti and Corn-y Uncle. Their apartment on the Upper West Side is a pretty luxurious place to stay. It’s also conveniently located near the 96th street subway station, within a few stops of Columbia. And next to that subway station is one of the best breakfast options in the city: The Tamale Lady.
On the mornings before my 8:30 am class, the Tamale (Spanish: tamal, Nahuatl: tamalli) Lady has been a mainstay. An Ecuadorian woman with a talent for cooking and an entrepreneurial spirit, the Tamale Lady and her male assistantâ€” who some say is her sonâ€” set up with a cooler near the 96th and 93th street subway entrances. When someone walks up to one of the coolers, their custodians open them to reveal a wealth of homemade tamales. These sell for a mere $1.50 each. The first one I tried (pictured here) was made with chicken and a spicy, fresh salsa verde. Wrapped tightly in its husk and a sheet of aluminum foil, the tamale stayed warm and moist until after my two-hour accounting class came to a close. The firm, slightly sweet masa was a pleasure to eat. My second tamale of the week was mixed with the chewy, stringy melting cheese and spicy blend of green and red chilies gave the tamale extra kick and texture. Another breakfast of champions.
Being in the tamale mood, I decided to try another version at the Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market when I was visiting the Hudson River Valley town with Auntie Pasti over the weekend. We picked out the chicken and tomatillo combo and paid a full $4 for the privilege. “This had better be $2.50 better than the Tamale Lady’s,” I said. In fact, it was smaller and lacked the pleasantly toothsome density of the Tamale Lady’s creations. The chicken was fine, but we couldn’t detect any evidence of tomatillos. These may have been made with organic chicken, but I would take the delicious lard-filled authenticity of the Tamale Lady’s products any day.
The Tamale Lady
96th St. and 94th St. Subway Stations
New York, NY