Be­cause they were com­pact and could be made ahead, tamales were ideal food for war­riors. They were even con­sid­ered good enough for the gods: Aztec manuscripts de­pict women de­liv­er­ing them to tem­ples.

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW -

cin­na­mon, pep­pered with anise seeds, and stud­ded with pecans, it was like a soft, hot biz­co­chito.

After you wan­der the aisles of El Paisano Mar­ket off Cer­ril­los Road, spell­bound by the panoply of piñatas strung from the ceil­ing, head over to the food counter on the far right of the store and ask for a bag of tamales from the re­frig­er­a­tor case. Warmed in the steamer at home, the chile-cheese tamales de­liv­ered ideal masa — per­fectly co­he­sive but not at all dense — laced with mild queso and loaded with strips of no-foolin’ Hatch green chile. They’ll wake up your taste buds in a hurry.

While we waited on our (ap­par­ently tri­fling) or­der at El Para­sol, two other cus­tomers or­dered tamales by the dozens and de­parted with fully laden bags in each hand. It’s hard to pick a fa­vorite: a sat­is­fy­ingly spicy red-chile pork, a sa­vory green-chile chicken, or a cal­abac­i­tas-packed veg­gie ver­sion. The veg­gie won by a nose — squash, corn, and green chile gave it a pure endof-sum­mer aroma.

John­nie’s Cash Store is a famed east-side spot known for red and green tamales kept cozy and warm in a coun­ter­top steam table. Be sure to come early — sup­plies dwin­dle by early af­ter­noon. I was lucky enough to nab one of each, which I tonged into a con­tainer and car­ried off to eat out­side. The de­li­cious red — our fa­vorite — had all the great qual­i­ties of pulled bar­be­cued pork.

Down on the Plaza, the El Molero food cart is fa­mous for its fa­ji­tas, which reg­u­larly send steamy clouds of tan­ta­liz­ing meat-and-veg­gie smoke waft­ing across the square. But in a tall, well-charred pot they also stock two types of tamales — red-chile-soaked pork and green-chile-stud­ded chicken — that have just the right amount of fill­ing, a pleas­ant heat, and a heav­enly smoky touch. These were the third tamales I sam­pled on one par­tic­u­lar day, and I was sad when they were gone.

Veg­gie and chicken tamales are even avail­able in the pre­pared foods sec­tion of Whole Foods. Their green­chile chicken ver­sion had a deep, sat­is­fy­ing rich­ness and a soul­ful fla­vor that re­called, oddly, the very best chicken soup.

This list could go on. Though I’ve man­aged to sam­ple nearly two dozen of Santa Fe’s tamales, I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the sur­face. One great dis­cov­ery: They’re cheap for the amount of sat­is­fac­tion you get — I bought tamales from five pur­vey­ors in one day, and I spent less than $40 (a la carte tamales range from $1.50 to $4 each, with most com­ing in around $2.50). For a food fit for war­riors and gods, that’s hard to beat.

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