In the taco versus tamale debate, I typically side with tacos, especially if they are stuffed with grilled fish and cilantro. But Ken Hooper’s tamales might change my mind.
I stopped by Hooper’s truck Tamale Trolley last week. It was parked at the top of Beale Street across from B.B. King's Blues Club. Since I’d already eaten lunch, I ordered tamales to go. They were so cute, wrappaed up with perfect ties.
The tamales were still warm when I got home so I shared one with Tony. (They were, after all, supposed to be for him.) We stood in the kitchen and ate all three, dipping each bite in Hooper’s excellent red chili sauce.
Hooper explained by email that the sauce is New Mexico style, which basically means it starts with a roux. Here’s his explanation for why his sauce is so divine: “I use chile ancho for bitterness and chile morita for smoke and heat, balancing the tastes until they complement the masa. Tamales are about corn, and that is where the focus needs to stay.”
He also removes the seeds from the chili morita, a necessary but tedious chore. “The seeds are acrid and incendiary,” Hooper said. “Once they are gone, the chile has a depth and character you simply cannot get in a commercially made sauce.”
The tamale filling is typical of Mexican-style tamales: roasted pork shoulders that Hooper seasons and grinds.
Now back to those tacos. Tamale Trolley also sells Ensenada-style tacos that sound equally delicious. On the day I stopped by, tacos were filled with fish, grilled cabbage, onion and lime-cilantro sour cream.
Ken’s dad, Glen Hooper, also helps out with the truck, which moves between downtown, the Agricenter Farmer’s market and special events like the Sunday night concerts at Levitt Shell. Like with most food trucks, it’s best to follow on twitter @tamaletrolley.