La Guerrera’s Kitchen Handcrafts Tamales

Reyna Maldonado opened La Guerrera’s Kitchen in Fruitvale this May with her mother, Ofelia Barajas, and they make tamales the family way.


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Photos by Lance Yamamoto

Never take a tamale for granted.

These steamy, satisfying stuffed cylinders with a 7,000-year history might be one-dish-mealishly easy to eat, but they aren’t easy to make.

Consider the steps: Weight down dry cornhusks in warm water where they’ll soak until soft. Fashion masa dough by blending fat and liquid into hominy flour with a mixer or by hand. Prepare flesh, vegetable, and/or fruit fillings — though it’s usually pork, chicken, or beef, slow-cooked to mouthwatering tenderness, flavored with painstakingly crafted chile sauce. Spread masa on those cornhusks, then spoon filling over that. Fold carefully. Arrange full batch in steamer. Steam.

Amid all this, “the trickiest part is making sure that you distribute the masa evenly and correctly on the corn husk. It’s important to get this just right: the way you position your hand and spread the masa, not letting it be too thick or too thin. That’s very labor-intensive,” said Reyna Maldonado, who opened La Guerrera’s Kitchen in Fruitvale this May with her mother, Ofelia Barajas.

For 15 years, Barajas sold her handcrafted tamales on the streets of San Francisco’s Mission district attracting legions of loyal fans.

Mother and daughter entered La Cocina’s kitchen-incubator program together two years ago, emerging to operate pop-ups and then, this June, to open their first brick-and-mortar business, making a variety of tamales along with other fare such as tacos, posole, salsa-from-scratch, and the richly historic corn-based atole beverages that traditionally accompany them in the pair’s ancestral Guerrero state.

Their best-selling tamale “is definitely the chicken in green sauce,” Maldonado said.

While the masa in their meat versions includes lard, the mother-and-daughter team’s vegan tamales are stuffed with beans and zucchini (calabacita) while a vegetarian version is stuffed with roasted poblano-chile strips (rajas) and Monterey Jack cheese. Eaten straight from the hands — unlike savory tamales, which are traditionally eaten with knife and fork — the restaurant’s sweet fruit tamales are also lard-free.

“In Guerrero, tamales are what you cook during holidays, and what you eat during Posadas” — Mexico’s nine-day year-end processional celebrations. 

“It has also become a local tradition to eat them in the morning,” Maldonado said. “So now they’re a breakfast option, too.”

 

La Guerrera’s Kitchen, 954 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, 510-424-8577, m.facebook.com/maizwarrior.

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