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Red Lights & Tamales

Speaking of tamales....

Here is something interesting we learned in San Lucas, Sacatepequez, Guatemala. (near Antigua)

After the first few weeks here, we noticed that on Saturday nights there were numerous red lights outside many houses. These were red bulbs in light sockets, red plastic balls or red broken plastic toys placed over entrance lights and/or any number of odd ways people seemed to be using to make the white light bulbs red.

But during the week there were no red lights.

Hmmm..... we couldn't figure this out, and we were pretty sure that this wasn't a red light to signal, uh, illicit activity. (although prostitution isn't illegal in Guatemala.)

The answer was .... "tamales" .

On Saturday nights, and in some places on Fridays, too, the red light signals that this house has . . . tamales for sale. When the red light is on, there are still tamales for sale. No red light, tamales are all gone.

Usually, the local people will have their favorite place to buy tamales - some cooks make them with different ingredients, some are higher quality, some have incredibly hot jalapenos inside and so on. But if your favorite tamale maker doesn't have any, then you can look for the other red lights!

On Saturdays, the more enterprising ladies will walk around town and to the houses at the end of town, carrying tamales in a large plastic tub on their heads, selling door to door. Sometimes their children will help them in this too. Sometimes the ladies are pushing a rickety old wheelbarrow with the plastic or a metal washtub filled with tamales, selling door to door. A few dozen tamale are very, very heavy. Most times there is a very small child or baby in the wheelbarrow too, and another child or two in tow.

So our red light district means hot tamales! Price? About US$0.26 each, and even if you are a big eater, two will fill you up! Even when delivered by the door-to-door ladies, the price is the same.

Why only Saturdays? I don't know. All I can say is that when I commented that some of these ladies could make more money by selling tamales on days that everyone else didn't make them, they looked at me funny and said that tamales are made and sold on Saturdays!

They do keep fairly well in the refrigerator for a few days. I even froze some to take to Pennsylvania when I went to visit my mother. Maybe fortunately for me, she took a few bites and declared that "they are ok, but I am not crazy about them" and proceeded to make some chicken pot pie. So, I got to have my tamale, and, some great Pennsylvania food. (Some Guatemalans eat tamales for breakfast, but especially in Pennsylvania, I prefer scrapple.)

Christmas Tamales

At Christmas, they make Tamales Navidenas - Christmas Tamales. These have other ingredients such as olives, raisins, dates, chunks of chicken or pork, and of course spicy peppers if you like. These are *only* made from about Dec 20 to the end of the year and cost about US$0.65 to $0.90 each. And, it seems everyone buys Christmas Tamales - you have to put your order in ahead of time if you want to make sure you get your share on Christmas eve!

Well, we got a hankering for these super delicious Christmas Tamales during the summer last year. But people here were stupefied that I would think that we could have them except at Christmas. So, I found a lady who makes them at Christmas and after convincing her that I was serious, she agreed to make a dozen Christmas Tamales for me, special. But I got the feeling she thought it was sort of sacrilegious, or at the least anti-cultural to eat them out of season! Well no matter - they sure were great!


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