Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Texas Tamale Company/The Mexican Deli

One of the nice features of Houston is that it is a crossroads for folks from all over the world and quite a few of them stick around. Due to the history of Texas and Houston's proximity to Mexico, it is home to many great local Tex-Mex, Mex-Mex, Coastal Mexican and Taqueria restaurants.

Tamales are a Mexican staple dish. Meat, veggies or even dried fruit are covered in thick corn dough, called masa, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and are then steamed until firm.  The leaf wrapping is discarded before eating.  I explained them to the Chinese side of my family as being a Latin Baobao.  The typical filling is seasoned beef, pork or chicken, and they are usually served covered in red or green salsa, or a chile-pepper based mole sauce.  Of note, Tamales were discovered by the Spanish Conquistadors and brought back to Europe.  They are one of the earliest examples of a Native American/Mexican dish that was brought back to Europe and became part of their cultural diet in one form or other.

My earliest experience with Tamales as a kid was not so pleasant.  It was canned Hormel Tamales which were wrapped in wax paper.  They were edible, were in a runny version of Hormel Chile, but were not very flavourful or enjoyable to eat.  However when I was older and visited relatives in Texas, we were treated to genuine Mexican Tamales that were steamed in corn husks and served with mole sauce and cheese.  These were a HUGE improvement over the Hormel variety, to be sure.  Tamales are considered comfort food in Mexico, much like Poutine in Canada;  or Mac & Cheese or Chili in the United States.  There are many varieties and types of Tamales throughout Mexico and Latin America, just like there are many variations on Poutine in Canada and Mac & Cheese or Chili in the United States.  Are you hungry yet?

Menu at Texas Tamale Company
The Texas Tamale Company's The Mexican Deli invited me to come try their tamales which they sell frozen in many local stores, and ship all over, along with their individually branded sauces, seasonings and marinades.  Given my love of promoting great local businesses, and of great Mexican food, how could I say no?  One side note: I did not let them know when I was coming in.  I can't objectively rate a restaurant that knows when I'm coming.   And objectively speaking,  Texas Tamale Company has REALLY GREAT tamales!

3 Tamale Plate Lunch
Texas Tamale Co. 3 Tamale Plate Blueprint:
1 each: Beef, Pork & Spinach/Cheese Tamales
Smothered in a red mole sauce with Queso
Frijoles Refritos
Mexican Rice
Corn Tortilla Chips

First of all, the spicy, savoury, sweet smell of this meal was really, really good.  Even served on a disposable platen this quaint storefront restaurant, it was a fiesta and a feast for the eyes.  The foods were all at the correct temperatures and were full of spicy flavour.  The frijoles refritos were very flavourful, but did not have the same kind of pork-smokey flavour I've experienced in some refried beans.  I am presuming they may be cooked without lard or pork, which is fine.  They were still quite tasty.  The red mole sauce was full of a sweet meat that I presume is seasoned pork--it tasted very similar to the meat inside the pork tamale. It was like a  porky, semi-runny chili.  Very delicious!  The pork tamale had a sweet filling, the beef was more savoury, and the spinach-cheese one had a bit of a garlic taste to it.  The flavours in the sauce, with the corn masa and the queso and peppers were a spicy, sweet, savoury combination for the palate.  Very well done!  The Mexican Rice was fluffy and nicely yellow orange, a little salty, but no complaints here.  The food was overall tasty, spicy but not excessively so, and full of flavour.  A satisfying meal

The Texas Tamale Company sells more than just frozen Tamales for you to steam and eat at home.  They also sell a signature brand of marinades, salsas, cooking sauces, chili con queso, home-style chili, and even margarita mix!  The Mexican Deli sells tacos, fajitas, breakfast tacos and now rice bowls and salads.  See the menu above for more details.

I will not be grading the atmosphere category as this place is like many locally owned storefront Taquerias--rustic.  However, the fact that the company has looked beyond being a storefront Taqueria and is marketing itself online with it's signature merchandise, shows that its a lot more than what it appears.  I figure the West Houston Couple who started making these products in the early 1980s and has been operating off of Fountainview for over 20 years knows what they are doing.

The Foodie Professor's Report Card for Texas Tamale Company:
3 Tamale Plate Lunch: A
Refried Beans A-
Mexican Rice: B+
Cleanliness: A-
     Speed: A+
     Friendliness: A+

Overall Grade:  A

Texas Tamale Company/The Mexican Deli
3340 Fountainview
Houston, TX  77057

And remember:
Eat Happy!
Zao an, Y'all!!!

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