You might look for grooves worn into the sidewalk at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Keap in South Williamsburg: Carlos, an early morning tamale vendor, has been at this same spot almost every Saturday and Sunday for the past 18 years. He pulls up on his bicycle, which is outfitted with a rolling cart that’s freighted with sturdy coolers packed with fresh tamales (all $1). He’s from a rural town 20 miles outside of Atlixco in southern Puebla, where he learned the craft, and for over a decade, he’s been making these tamales in his home and selling them on the street, turning passersby into repeat customers.
There are regularly three kinds of tamale: verde, mole, and rajas con queso, wrapped in corn husks, damp with steam. On cold October mornings, the tamales aren’t always as hot as they could be, but the corn masa is dense and flavorful, coarsely ground so the dough tears away like cornbread. The verde is cloaked with a tart tomatillo salsa; the mole is streaked with ebony, chunks of chicken embedded within. The rajas con queso sports planks of rubbery panela cheese too stubborn to melt and quartered jalapeños unstripped of their seeds so they remain fiery hot; the masa is daubed with red sauce before the package is steamed. It’s too good to share.
Before dusk, Carlos begins in Bushwick, following a route to the south side, selling along the way. Once he gets to his corner, he stops. It’s not quite 7 a.m.; the stores that line the avenue are shuttered, walls plastered with flyers for Latino parties and boxing matches. A friend stays to chat while customers buy bags in twos and threes. One of each. Half a dozen. I ask Carlos if his business has a name. His friend offers, laughing, “How about ‘Tamales Pobrecito,’ poor little tamale-maker?”
Carlos shrugs and says, “Not bad.”
South Williamsburg Tamalero
Broadway at Keap
Saturday: 7 a.m. to noon
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.