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Masa Magic

Amazing Salvadoran tamales in an East Bay convenience store.


We’re through the holiday season, with its family reunion-induced stresses, white elephant gift exchanges and, perhaps, if you’re lucky enough to come from a Latino family, big pots full of steaming husk-or leaf-wrapped tamales—the best part of a traditional Christmas dinner. Here in the Bay Area, Mexican tamales have become a local staple, but Salvadoran- style tamales—more tender and quivery than their Mexican counterparts, thanks to the addition of chicken stock to the masa—still tend to fly under the radar. For my favorite version, head to Norma’s Meat and Deli, a small Salvadoran-Mexican takeout counter in back of the Val-Mar Market convenience store in Richmond, where Norma Muñoz has a reputation for making some of the tastiest handmade pupusas around. If anything, her tamales ($3.50) are even better: The masa has a custardlike texture that’s akin to the most savory and deeply flavorful panna cotta you’ve ever eaten, and the pork or chicken inside is seasoned perfectly and cooked to a spoon-tender degree of succulence. Each delicate banana leaf-wrapped bundle is like the best kind of present—happily, one you can give yourself to make any day feel like a holiday. 3630 Barrett Ave. (at 37th Street), Richmond, 510.221.1148


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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