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Roadside Tamales in Fife

Adela, osiris and 900 gifts a week

A taste of Adela's can be found on Pacific Highway in Fife. Photo credit: Steph DeRosa

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At times I get a hair up my ass to try a challenging recipe, just to see if I can come anywhere near the picture in the cookbook.  The first time I challenged myself was in the year 2000, inside our little home on Stevens and North Eighth Street.  I attempted tamales.  I knew by memory how to make all my Southern childhood dishes, such as chicken and dumplings, jambalaya, dirty rice, meaty Texas chili (no beans!) and sweet cornbread - yet never had I made a true homemade tamale.

Traditionally, the craft of making homemade tamales was left to the hands of all my Mexican friends' mothers, yayas and tias. They would all gather in the kitchen around Christmas, sometimes for days at a time - and make the next year's supply of tamales.  Pounds and pounds of stewed pork and chicken wrapped in handmade masa was rolled in a corn husk and steamed to perfection. 

Any time we tried to enter the kitchen to sneak a bite, all hell would break loose.  I remember this being a time in my life where I learned how to swear in Spanish.  This came in handy later when I began a career in restaurant labor. Nothing gets su comida mas rapido better than a young white girl throwing Spanish expletives out across a kitchen pass-through.  In my vast restaurant experience, this tactic works better down in the South than it does up here in Tacoma. Up here, you just buy the cooks some coffee and stay out of their way. (It's not as much fun.)

The day I tried my hand at homemade tamales was a day that I learned exactly how messy one gal could get a kitchen while cooking. Shit. Was. Everywhere. I attribute this to the fact that there are about 76 ingredients and 103 steps involved with homemade tamale making. It truly is an art. One cannot simply read a cookbook and make a tamale; it takes years of growing up in a Mexican family and spending days and days inside a kitchen learning the legendary art of tamale making from yayas and tias.

Up here, these friends with tamale-making matriarchs are hard to find. Fortunately, I have recently found my new best friend, Osiris, who hails from Colima, Mexico.  She and her mother run Adela's, a soon-to-be-open authentic Mexican restaurant in Tukwila.

Osiris and her mother, Adela, wake up every morning at 2 a.m. and begin work on their tamales for the day. No prep work is done ahead of time; it all begins in the wee hours of the morning. This mother and daughter duo make 300 tamales until about 3 p.m., at which time they head out to sell their Mexican delicacies street-side. 

I will not embellish the tasteful glory you will experience by eating these tamales with adjectives that only eat up my word count. Instead, I will simply instruct you to do these four things:

1.  Show up on the southbound side of Pacific Highway going toward Fife, between South 356th and Porter Way after 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

2. Bring cash only. They're about $1.50 each, and plan on buying 10 to 15.

3. Hurry, she usually sells out within three hours.

4. TRUST ME.  Best homemade tamales, guaranteed.

I, on the other hand, will be available most Friday afternoons offering classes on how to yell at restaurant kitchen staff in Spanish. My words sometimes taste better than a homemade tamale, depending on who you're talking to.

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