Appetite City: Hot Tamales!


Appetite City: Street Food. My demo is at 12:30.

Yes, it’s true. Tamales in New York in the 1890s.   The earliest mentions of Tamales stretch back to the late 19th century, even earlier than the 1910 date I give in the show (ugh. my bad.).  Grimes mentions them in his book, Appetite City, and the image of the tamale men on the streets of the city enchanted me. One of the original newspaper articles on the topic, from the New York Herald, is below.

Why veal and not chicken? I’m not an expert on 19th century meat production (yet), so maybe some of you out there can add to this explanation.   But as I understand it, chicken was not being mass produced, like we do in factories today, so it was quite expensive. Veal, on the other hand, was a by-product of the milking industry. You don’t need male calves, and raising them to adulthood is a financial detriment to your business. Selling off calves young was a boon, so the price was cheap.

If you’re looking for the best masa (or tortillas) in town, you’ll have to check out Tortilleria Nixtamel for yourself.

1890s New York Tamales
from The New York Herald, 1894.
From the (LA) Times Cookbook No. 2, published c. 1905.


1 ¼ lbs Veal
1 large onion, halved
1 head of garlic
4 dried chilis
2 cups masa harina
â…” cup lard
1 8-ounce package dried corn husks

1. Place veal in a large pot or slow cooker; add onion and 4 cloves of garlic.  Cook until tender.

2. Separate dried corn husks, then soak  in a sink filled with warm water for 30 minutes to soften.

2. Remove meat from cooking liquid and shred.  Set aside to cool.

3. Remove stems and seeds from chili pods; place in a saucepan with two cups water. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from heat to cool.

4. Add chilies and water to a blender along with remaining garlic.  Blend until smooth; strain mixture, and add 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Mix with shredded meat.

5. To masa, add: ½ teaspoon salt, lard, and enough veal broth to make a spongy dough.

6. Fold the tamales; best to watch my demo in the video above.  Bring water in a pot with a steamer basket to a low boil; steam tamales for two hours.