Saturday, February 12, 2011

The best tamales in Playa del Carmen

Barbequed Tamal - OK, it doesn't look like much, but it's delicious!
Playa del Carmen is generally not the place for tamales.  Although different styles can be found brought from people from all over the country of Mexico (a natural result of the fact that the people who live here come from all over the country), the quality is generally lower than those in the place of origin; they tend to be dryer, lack flavor, and are over-priced. ($1 is average; in most places 50 cents is normal.)

About a week ago, however, my wife and I discovered tamales that are not only by far the best we've had here, but some of the best we've had anywhere in Mexico. (If any chilangos are reading, they are even better than most from Mexico City, as much as you could never dream of the possibility!  I have to admit, though, until trying these, I was part of the "only Mexico City knows how to make real tamales" club.)

The unique part about them is that they are entirely barbequed.  The lady who makes them first barbeques the chicken, then mixes with some other ingredients (including onions and boiled eggs) which are used as the filling in the tamale dough.  She uses banana-leaf wrappers, and they are a flat, square shape (the common practice in the south and east of the country, as well as Guatemala, as opposed to the corn-husk and sausage-like shape predominant in the center of the country.)  I'm not sure if she steams them are not first (the normal cooking form for tamales), but the final stage is to cook them over a wood-fired barbeque.

They are crispy on the outside, and the banana-leaf wrapping is almost burnt off by the end.  The wood flame gives a very unique and rich flavour.  Also common for banana-leaf tamales, a very slightly spicy red sauce is served on top.
The typical kind of tamal from Mexico City, in a bun.

We discovered these tamales outside of our fruit and vegetable store.  When we finished shopping last week, we were waiting for a taxi, and the smell of the tamales beside us was unbearably tempting.  Having had generally negative experiences (with only 2 exceptions) with tamales in Playa del Carmen, we hesitated buying.  Then a regular customer came by and ordered 8.  He told us that they were amazing - he drive halfway across the city to get them (this is only 10 minutes, but for residents of Playa, driving 10 minutes for tamales shows a fairly strong dedication.)  So, we decided to try them, and we were delighted!

They are a little expensive (20 pesos, or about $1.70), but they are large - about the size 2 or 3 of the standard, Mexico City style tamales) and the flavour is amazing!

The lady agreed to let my wife take pictures of her making them.  So, after she does that, I'll post the pictures.  When ever I remember to take our camera vegetable shopping, I'll also take some pictures of her barbeque booth outside the store.

To read more about tamales:

Vitamin T - The Mexican Special


  1. Isn't there a Tamale festival somewhere once a year with tamales of every type you can imagine? I heard this somewhere, but I forgot where. Maybe you or Cecy knows. Sounds like you are well. Keep up the posts, they are really good.

    1. Mexico City has a tamale festival on Candelaria - Feb. 2, so this Sunday. It is in the south of Mexico City, near the suburb of (wait for it) Candelaria.. Pretty fun but we are in Playa so going to get some BBQ tamales tonight!!

    2. John, that festival sounds amazing! I was in Canada (where I now live again) for Candelaria. Fortunately I found and enjoyed some delicious tamales the day before.

  2. NO WAY!!! Where in Playa del Carmen can I find them???

    (Greeting from Mexico City... I really enjoy what you write...)

  3. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy it. I was just in Mexico City last week. I'll put a post or two about it shortly.

    These tamales are sold on Juarez Ave., way back from the beach or the tourist area, on the other side of the highway. If you head up Juarez, just before you get to the last traffic light at 115 Ave., there is a fruit and vegetable store on the right hand side painted baby blue called "Maharaja." The lady has her barbeque in front of that store in the evenings.

  4. Has anyone visited this place recently to confirm if it is still there or not?

  5. We were there today. The lady had a charcoal grill packed with these Tamales. We bought 5 for 20 pesos each. Her grill is parked right by the entrance to the store " Majarajah" on the north side of Juarez a few hundred feet before you get to the last traffic light. The tamales were outstanding.