Monday, October 06, 2008

New Mexico: El Modelo

The front counter at El Modelo.

Once again, I've turned to the pages of Alibi for recommendations on food. This time it's tamales and Alibi says to check out El Modelo.

El Modelo is located in an industrial section of town. There's nothing much around it except for some picnic benches and railroad tracks. It's way off the beaten path and you have to know how to get here - there's no "stumbling across" El Modelo.

Of all the places I've been to on this trip, El Modelo is the most Mexican. Meaning that everyone here speaks Spanish and mostly Spanish, and my Spanish is poor to illiterate. However, the menus are legible and as long as I keep it to "seis tamales" I should be okay. Luckily, the counter girl recognizes that I'm basically just a gringo and speaks English to me.

I order the six tamales and then notice that they're also selling fresh corn masa. This is the real deal, not the Maseca we're used to in Baltimore. This is real, ground masa. And they're selling it. Of course, I must have it. Never mind that I really don't know how to work with masa, I must take some home with me.

When it comes to masa, they've got "prepared" and "unprepared." What's the difference? I don't know. And when I asked the girl, she brought out one of the cucineras but she doesn't speak English and my Spanish is terrible. From what I gather, I'm supposed to do something with the masa, but I'm not sure what, and all they have left this afternoon is unprepared masa.

Rather than stand around there trying to decipher the Masa Code, I decide I'll ask El Presidente at Woodberry Kitchen when I get home. He'll know what to do. Besides, I'm going to miss my flight if I dilly-dally around here longer. I grab by six tamales and two pounds of unprepared masa, bid my new friends goodbye (the girl was cute) and take off for the airport.

Eating the tamal during my stopover in Denver.

Like always, I never have time to spare. From El Modelo, it's a mad rush to find a gas station then off to the car rental return and to the terminal. Oddly, Albuquerque's airport has one shuttle bus stop - they don't drop you at individual airlines like most places. And wouldn't you know it - the shuttle stop is as far away from United's check in counter as you can get at ABQ.

With the tamales in my hand and the masa in the duffle with the chiles, I'm off for home once again. In Denver, I'm feeling a bit hungry and decide to eat one of the tamales. It's succulent and delicious. It's chock full of shredded pork. The corn flavor is light and amazing. I realize that I'm a moron. I should have bought two dozen. Idiot.

To be honest, I'm a bastard. A real dick. I choose a seat near to one of the kitchen workers at one of the food joints in United's Denver terminal. He's hispanic and he's glancing longingly at my tamal while he eats some generic-looking salad and orange juice. I can't help but to feel blessed. What a jerk. I can't help it.

El Modelo
1715 2nd Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

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