A Central American specialty from an unexpected source.
When Raj Sundaram learned that his cooks at Saigon Pho Kitchen, the only Vietnamese restaurant in town, were making traditional Mexican tamales for their own meals, he didn’t shut that down—he got interested.
“Some regular customers tried them and fell in love with them,” Sundaram says. “They requested whether we can add them to the restaurant menu.” So he created Tamale Oaxaca—more a “simultaneous kitchen” than a “ghost kitchen” at Saigon Pho, because there’s a sign on the window, and you can order tamales at the counter and dine in.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating an authentic tamale, it’s “a complete meal in portable form,” in Sundaram’s words: corn-meal dough filled with chicken or pork, vegetables, cheese, and seasonings, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and slow-cooked in steam. While the ingredients may be common, the dish is a treat, because authentic tamales are labor-intensive to make and the combination of flavors and textures is unlike anything else.
Order the Tamale Verde, with a green sauce made of tangy tomatillos and mildly spicy poblano chili, or the Tamale Rojo, with a red chili sauce of pasilla or guajillo and ancho chiles—either version with chicken or pork. I especially like the chicken. Make a complete meal of it with a side of traditional Pozole Soup made with hominy and served with tortillas and a generous plate of crisp vegetable garnishes.