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Candelaria is coming — time for tamales

By Tom Hanchett

At Pasadita Tamaleria (from left): cook Elena Pascual, co-owners Carlos Gaona and Maria Padrón.

Anytime is a good time for tamales, but this Thursday is a red-letter day for Mexican tamales fans.

February 2 is Candlemas, also known as Candelaria in Spanish — the day in Catholic tradition when Jesus was first taken to the temple in Jerusalem. Families celebrate by lighting candles and there’s often a party.

“Back on January 6, the day the Wise Men came to Jesus, Mexican families share a rosca de reyes cake with a tiny Jesus doll inside. Whoever finds the doll has to help throw a party on February 2nd,” explains Maria Padrón, the young co-owner of Tamales La Pasadita. A wintertime party means lots of warm, comforting tamales.“That’s the culture. It comes from the generations.”

La Pasadita’s name has two meanings: “passing by,” or “grab and go.” Both are apt for its tiny, easy-to-pass-by location alongside the busy Plaza. The family initially rented the storefront just for its kitchen — prep space for their two “loncheria” food trucks that go to construction sites. Only after a year did they open the 1950s-retro dining room — three tables and a nine-stool counter — to on-site eaters.

Back in the kitchen, cook Elena Pascual makes tamales reflecting two Mexican traditions.

  • Maria Padrón hails from San Luis Potosi in the north where corn husks are used to sheath tamales, which are made with masa — specially processed corn.
  • Her husband Carlos Gaona comes from Veracruz in the south, where green plantain leaves serve as the wrappers, and the dough can incorporate pureed fresh-from-the-cob sweet corn.

In either style, choices of fillings include chicken, pork and salsa, or cheese and jalapeño.

Be sure to try the dulce — sweet — tamales. My favorite combines raisins and sweetened condensed milk to make a rich, comfort-food dessert.

What was once a blue-collar luncheonette circa 1950s on The Plaza is now Tamales La Pasadita.

Tamales La Pasadita
Monday – Saturday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

3112 The Plaza (near 35th Street)
Charlotte, NC 28205
(704) 830 – 8189

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