Steppin’ Out – El Tamalero

About two weeks ago I was invited to visit and try the excellent tamales that are made locally by the Silva family. This is a serious family business, and they make the tamales at Manzanita Kitchen and Events, the new commercial kitchen/event center behind the post office in Diamond Springs.

A few weeks before I had tasted them at the grand opening of the facility and was looking forward to seeing them make them and, most of all, to taste them again.

“My dad (David Silva) starts making them about 6 a.m., and starts delivering them around 11,” his daughter Carmen told me on the phone, “so it would be best to get here about 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.”

I arrived and was graciously greeted by the eldest of the three sisters, Mechelle. She introduced me to the rest of the family, father David (The Tamale Man), mother Wanda and sisters Vonadale and Carmen, the one I had talked to on the phone and who does their PR. There are also two brothers, David and Fernando and, like everyone else, they too are involved in the business.

While I was watching everyone happily doing their part to make the tamales, David Silva told me the story about how they got started.

“We came here in 1964,” he said. “I worked for the Nielsen-Ferrari lumber mill, which, like most mills, was a seasonal business with slow winters. To help support the family, we took over a restaurant called Alice’s Coffee Pot in the town of El Dorado and changed the name to Silmart Café, after myself and my partner, a man named Martin.

“A couple of years later we opened a restaurant called Los Panchos on Mother Lode Drive. We had that place until 1973.

After that we made tamales off and on for several years and had lots of customers, like the employees at Blue Shield, when it was on Broadway, and Marshall Hospital. We also made them for fund raisers at church and schools.

“About 12 years ago we took a trip back to my home town, Coatzacoalcos, a port city in the Mexican State of Veracruz. That area is well known for tamales, so we visited local villages to see how the people made them. Then we came back and decided to make our tamales the old fashioned way.

“In Mexico they use a coarser corn meal to make tamales. It goes back to the days when it was stone-ground at home,” continued David. “What you find in the store is ground too fine, so we get ours from a nearby commercial mill.”

“Business was good, and after delivering tamales to my customers, I would end my route at Shenandoah High School,” continued David. “which is next to Union Mine High School.

“They had an R.O.P. (Regional Occupational Program) instructor named Jane Harris who we knew because we used her family’s commercial kitchen.

“I would see students just sitting around during their lunch hour and would offer them tamales. If they could pay something then or later, that was okay. If they couldn’t, that was also okay.

“I didn’t look for anything in return and then one day they presented me with the logo they designed for us and t-shirts for everyone, including all the kids and grandkids (13 total). It was a wonderful honor I didn’t expect.”

El Tamalero makes five kinds of tamales all year, and starting around Thanksgiving, sweet ones for the holidays.

Their tamales include: vegetarian, chicken, chile and cheese, beef and “hot and spicy” beef. They use only the freshest vegetables, chicken breasts, good cuts of quality beef and no lard. I tried them all and they were very, very good, especially when hot from the steamer.

They packed two of each kind for me to take home, along with some of their excellent green sauce. I froze them (they freeze quite well) and took them to my daughter’s house a couple of days later. She steamed them and everyone, including the grandkids, loved them. Our overall favorite was the chile and cheese, although my son-in-law really liked the “hot and spicy” one.

They make tamales on Wednesdays and Fridays and, in addition to delivering them those two days, they are available at the Wednesday evening farmer’s market in Placerville.

To order these excellent tamales to eat now, serve at a party or freeze for later, call (530) 417-5641 or visit www.eltamalero.com.

They can also be shipped and they have customers as far away as Montana, Tennessee and even Canada.

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