“Excuse me, lady.”
I was loading groceries in my car. The man’s voice startled me. He sounded furtive. In the split second it took to spin around I thought I was being approached by either a homeless person needing food or someone stranded and needing bus money. They’ve both happened before.
“Would you like to buy some homemade tamales?”
It was a nice-looking clean-cut man wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. Said his name was Fernando. And he was selling freshly made tamales out of the back of his blue Ford Econoline in the parking lot of Safeway, confident there were no similarly tasty morsels to be found in the store.
This hadn’t happened before. I choose food, food doesn’t choose me. But I immediately thought, “What would Anthony Bourdain do?”
Well, Anthony Bourdain would have tasted a tamale right there – food safety be damned – smiling and smacking his lips for the camera, taking it all in to conjure appropriate adjectives for the voice-over. I did the second-best thing – stifled passing thoughts of cyanide and salmonella and bought a dozen (half chicken, half pork). They were still warm in the bag Fernando gave me. I smiled and thank him, and my own plans for dinner went into the freezer.
I wasn’t sure how the family would feel about dinner from a van but LL’s grown up in this town, loves tamales, and know the best ones come from the unexpected places like the table outside the flea market or the woman who shows up at work periodically with the tamale-laden ice cooler, and so was looking forward to trying these. We kept them hot in a bamboo steamer in the wok and served them with a topping of canned organic chili beans and grated cheddar cheese. The chicken was laced with chopped jalapenos and was VERY spicy; the pork had been braised in a tomato sauce and was tender. The two went well together, and with their thick cornmeal comfort food wrapper they were super-rich. It was a full meal, and a good story.
My new motto: eat bravely.