Library Tamales

Yesterday, after my wife and I picked up our special order of Christmas tamales from the tienda on the western edge of Little Rock, we stopped by the nearby library to return a book.  This is a relatively new library with a modern design; stacked stone, ample glass, and architectural metal. Simple but expressive minimalist gardens enhance the front of the place. Horsetail reeds fill a large rectangular bed directly in front of the building. Something about the design of the place reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style of architecture.

The design of the building is not its only unique characteristic. The place’s behavior is different from other libraries.

As we entered the front door, we heard a loud “Hi, welcome to the library!” from one of two librarians behind the desk at the far side of the shallow building.  The other one joined in, “Come on in!”

Having grown up with, and continuing to frequent libraries in which whispers were the rules of verbal engagement, those loud but friendly comments were startling.

Startling, too, was the realization during another trip to the same place a few months ago that the library not only lends books, but fishing equipment. Yep, you can check out a rod and reel from this place. And, of course, like many libraries today, this one also offers video DVDs and music CDs.

During one recent trip to the place, I commented to my wife that I would appreciate a library that would allow me to check out woodworking equipment. I doubt that will come anytime soon.

After the surprising difficulty we encountered in finding someone to provide the kind of tamales we were looking for, it occurred to me that the library could be a resource for locating people who make and sell tamales. Perhaps they are such a resource, but we didn’t ask. It would have been so much easier to simply ask, “Can you give me the names and numbers of any local tamale ladies?” (I think the sellers are all women.)

Despite the fact that we did not ask, nor did we receive, advice from the library, we found a source for tamales. A few weeks ago, we drove to Little Rock to the little tienda (El Mercado Latino) we stumbled on shortly after we moved to Hot Springs Village during a drive down Highway 5. We noticed a taqueria truck parked outside a little store and stopped to check it out. After consuming some pretty decent tacos (but having to do so standing up, as there was no place to sit), we went inside the store and found it carries quite a selection of fruits and vegetables, has a complete meat market in back (though I don’t recognize most of the cuts of meat and can’t communicate effectively with the butchers due to neither of us being fluent in the other’s language). And they sell gallon cans of jalapeños, which endears the place to me.

At any rate, during a recent visit we noticed they sell tamales by the half-dozen. We inquired whether they sell pork & jalapeño tamales. Nidia, the woman behind the counter, said they did not, but they could get them for us from their tamale lady. So, we ordered a dozen pork & jalapeño tamales and a dozen of their “regular” tamales (she let us have one to taste and we were sold on it).  We agreed we would return yesterday to pick them up.

So, we picked them up yesterday. Just as we were getting out of our car, an SUV with a smiling Hispanic lady at the wheel pulled into the parking lot. We went in to inquire about our tamales. The guy behind the counter asked us to wait a moment, then picked up the phone and made a call. I could understand just enough to know that he was calling the tamale lady and asking when she would arrive. When he hung up, he said “give me three minutes, okay?” We wandered around the store a bit, got a pound of chorizo at the meat counter, and went back to the front of the store. There was the tamale lady, the smiling Hispanic woman in the SUV, handing the tamales to the clerk. She smiled at us and I smiled back and said “gracias!” She acknowledged me with a nod and words I did not understand, then turned and left. I wish I could have gotten her name and phone number, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate to ask, since I ordered the tamales from the store. They deserved to make a buck off of the deal.

Inasmuch as the aroma of tamales filled the car, and it was lunch time, we went in search of food. My wife mentioned a nearby Mexican restaurant that she has been wanting to try, so we headed that way. I’m glad we did. La Tapatia Taqueria & Birria is a tiny restaurant. It is also now the place we’ll go to eat when we return to that library. We had some wonderful tacos. Each of us ordered an assortment, so we tried carnitas, chorizo, campechana, and borrego tamales. And fabulous salsas; they even brought a superb habanero salsa to the table. The one disappointment was that, with a name including Birria, I expected to find goat on the menu, but did not. Nonetheless, the place was quite a find. We will go back, soon.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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