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Event Fri Nov 09 2012
It was love at first sight. As love in the wee hours, in a dive bar, after many, many cheap beers so often is. The slender form, the genial and somewhat plain appearance, the intoxicating whiff of something between the familiar and exotic. Just begging to be taken home -- or better yet, undressed right there on the bar, in front of everyone. Aw yeah. The first time I ever tried a Chicago tamale I just knew: it was the start of a lifelong affair. They're as good for breakfast as for bar food, offer endless variations of flavors and fillings, and fit snugly into one of my very favorite categories of edibles: foods stuffed with other foods. And to clinch it, they're just one one little vowel sound away my last name ("tamal-uh"). Tamales and me, we're meant to be.
So when I learned last year about the Feria del Tamal y el Atole, there was no question I would be in attendance. The fair returns a week from Sunday, moving from the ChiTown Futbol indoor arena to Benito Juarez Community Academy this year -- if it's anything like last year, you'll barely notice you're in a school what with the swirling Mexican dance troupe, the crush of bodies and strollers (so many strollers! It's an emphatically all-ages festival), and tri-folded booth dividers that make the whole thing feel somewhat like the Central and South America section of a Model UN food court. Is there such a thing? (There should be.)
But I've had late-night dive bar tamales, you might protest, what more could possibly be done to make a festival out of masa and filling? So, so much more, my dear friend -- bright red chipotle chicken, venison, spinach, dessert tamales filled with strawberries and cream, patriotic tamales dosed liberally with red and green food coloring, flat open-faced tamales, tamales steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks...over 50 variations in all -- and atole, in everything from chocolate to prune-flavored varieties. (The prune atole was particularly good last year -- warming, sweet, rich tempered with a bit of tang.) If you love a tamale anything like I do, you're probably going to want to go, and go hungry.