Here today, here tamale

There is nothing like a home-cooked tamale, even if buying them seems like a clandestine affair sometimes.

John I. Carney
4 min readSep 16, 2023

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A tamale, on a paper plate, with a fork.
I’ve just opened this up — I often drizzle some sort of sauce on the tamale before eating just for textural and flavor contrast. Purists, please plug your ears: I usually use supermarket taco sauce.

I live in a small Tennessee town, and there’s a local, food-related Facebook group, formed during the pandemic in an effort to support some of our local restaurants. Someone posted a message to that group yesterday asking where a good place was to get tamales. I immediately commented “following” so that I would have a better chance of seeing followup comments.

One of the first comments was from one of the local naysayers.

“Any of the 147 Mexican restaurants we have in town,” he snarked.

My blood boiled. To be fair, we have some people who whine every time a new restaurant opens. “It’s too expensive!” “We never get any nice restaurants!” “We already have too many chicken places!” “Why can’t we get a [chain restaurant that only operates in bigger cities, usually in big retail areas or on the Interstate]?”

But there is a special edge, a special meanness, to the people who complain about Mexican restaurants — you get the feeling they wouldn’t be snarking quite so sharply if we had too many Cracker Barrels.

Get this straight: If we have 147 Mexican restaurants, and they are all doing decent business, then we must have people in the community who like Mexican food. The 147 restaurants aren’t hurting you in the slightest. They have nothing to do with whether [chain restaurant] is or isn’t coming to town. Many of them are locally-owned, by entrepreneurs who beat their brains out trying to keep the bills paid and the doors open. Unless you have something positive to say about them, just shut up and eat at whatever restaurant you like to eat at. You may have to drive out of town to do it, and if so, we will miss you terribly for every heartbreaking moment that you are gone.

At any rate, the fact that this fellow thought you could get a good tamale at a restaurant proves he knows nothing about tamales. Good tamales come from a home kitchen, not a restaurant. I have never made tamales; I have a sister-in-law, not a Latina but a native of Southern California, who made them for the family on one of her first visits to Tennessee, and it was a labor of love.

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike