Tamales in Berlin? Impossible. Well, not entirely. There was a Mexican woman who showed up at the first Karneval der Kulturen and handed out tamales to promote her new tamale-making business, and dissolved in tears after the Germans first accepted them, then threw them in the street because they couldn’t bite through the corn-husks. Never occurred to them to unwrap them, I guess. But — wise woman that she was — she soon gave up the business.

Late last summer, though, a friend from Texas announced he was coming over, and I asked him if he could bring some stuff over for me, including some cornmeal. Instead of cornmeal, I got a four-pound sack of masa harina, the treated cornmeal you make tortillas from. Oops! But when I mentioned this to RFM, he mentioned he was going to California and could pick up some corn husks and any other stuff I might need to make tamales with. Just the ticket! He dutifully bought a few thousand of them, and I researched a recipe, coming upon this one, which, with some tweaking, looked like it would do the trick.

Finding a time and a place that was convenient to all took a bit of doing, but on Sunday, he, his friend Kristen, and I showed up at the dancer’s place (she’s got the only kitchen big enough to do this) and got down to some serious tamale making. Actually, I showed up first to get five pounds of pork roast and two chickens boiling and returned some hours later to find them boiled and cooled off. I proceeded to shred nearly the whole meat-mountain by hand, which was essential; as we discovered, the strings of meat are like shreds of tobacco to be rolled into a tamale/cigarette.

Next, I heated the meat-seasoning paste on the stove and cooled it some. By this time Mike and Kristen had showed up, and it was time to get to work. First, Mike kneaded the spice-paste into the meat:

Next, I stirred more spices into the dry masa, added some oil, and then we whisked in the broth with an electric mixer. All this while, the corn husks had been soaking in the sink, so we were ready to go. Here’s the wet fixins:

Learning not to overfill them, learning to roll them correctly, and learning to fold them carefully wasn’t easy, as you can see from the wide variety of shapes they wound up in:

As it turned out, Kristen was extremely proficient at making perfect tamales:

Her secret was to really roll them back and forth in the husk, just as you shape a cigarette in a cigarette paper. She can probably roll something that looks like a Camel with one hand. Anyway, we took the first batch and steamed them while we were rolling the next batch: we had two pots and two steaming baskets we could use, which was fortunate because it sped things up well. The recipe said to steam them for two hours, which seemed excessive and — fortunately, because we were starving by now — was. About 30 minutes proved to be enough to firm up the gloppy masa and heat the meat all the way through, and before long we were attacking them like the ravenous beasts we were: the smell had long since permeated the kitchen.

They don’t look so good, but if you could smell this photograph, you’d know that looks aren’t everything:

After dinner, we realized there was a lot of meat left over, so we whipped up another bowl of masa and continued rolling. This last batch we didn’t bother to steam, and I produced a box of Zip-Loc bags and proceded to pack tamales, six to a bag, ready to freeze. We each wound up with three bags apiece, each as heavy as a brick. Kristen shows off part of her take:

Quite a project, and physically exhausting, but I’d happily do it again. Once, that is, I’m through eating the ones I have.

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