This piece was crafted by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
The tamales from the Mississippi Delta differentiate themselves from their traditional Latin American counterparts in various ways. These local delicacies are smaller, packed with more meat, have a kick of spice, and are typically simmered, not steamed. The roots of these tamales are a topic of much debate. Some attribute their origin to Mexican migrants or soldiers from the Mexican American war, some see a connection with Native American cuisine, while others believe they may be derived from the African dish, kush — a cornbread hash. However, the flavors of the tamales are as diverse as their claimed histories. Here are the top locations where you can savor them.
1. Doe’s Eat Place
Situated in Greenville, famously known as the ‘Tamale Capital of the World’, Doe’s Eat Place stands out in the crowd. In the Delta, it is often the case that the more modest the structure, the tastier the cuisine. Walk through the front door and you’ll find yourself right in the kitchen, surrounded by the aroma of frying pans. Despite its humble exterior, this place is a renowned steakhouse where you can enjoy your tamales along with a hefty rib-eye steak. Unlike the common Delta tamales, the ones at Doe’s are encased in wax paper rather than corn husk, and are stuffed with premium cuts of beef.
2. Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales and Pies
Lake Village, Arkansas
Just a stone’s throw away from Greenville, across the Mississippi River, Rhoda Adams offers Delta-style tamales from her quaint shack in Lake Village. The secret behind her mouth-watering recipe: a robust mix of beef, chicken fat, and cumin, is credited to her aunt. Be sure to save some room for the pies, especially the half sweet potato, half pecan.
3. Delta Meat Market
Run by local Cole Ellis, this establishment is a butcher’s shop, restaurant, bar, and grocery store rolled into one. Specializing in Southern foods, they offer sophisticated regional dishes like tamales simmered in stock and served in the same flavorful broth. If you’re in a rush, the grocery section offers vacuum-packed tamales.
4. White Front Cafe, also known as Joe’s Hot Tamale Place
Despite its weathered white exterior not making the most appealing first impression, the tamales, curated by owner Barbara Pope, certainly leave a mark. Your only choice here is hot beef, served in six-piece portions. Barbara prepares the batches daily by hand, and patrons often relish a portion before ordering more, frozen, for later enjoyment.
5. Abe’s BBQ and Tamales
Established by a Lebanese immigrant in 1924, Abe’s has been serving high-quality barbecue and tamales even before Clarksdale became famous for its music scene. Maintained by the same family, this authentic barbecue joint comes with wooden booths and drinks served in Styrofoam cups. Claim a barstool and order a half-dozen of their original-recipe, saucy tamales, complemented with a side of slaw.
6. Ground Zero Blues Club
Located in a century-old cotton grading warehouse, this restaurant and music venue owned by Morgan Freeman is a tribute to Clarksdale’s culture. While the live music is a draw in itself, their fried Delta tamales are the real crowd-pleasers.
This article was featured in the Summer 2023 (Issue 20) edition of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Delta Tamales
What distinguishes Mississippi Delta tamales from traditional Latin American ones?
Mississippi Delta tamales are smaller, spicier, more meat-filled, and usually simmered rather than steamed.
Where is the ‘Tamale Capital of the World’?
The ‘Tamale Capital of the World’ is Greenville, Mississippi.
What is unique about the tamales at Doe’s Eat Place?
Unlike most Delta tamales, Doe’s version is wrapped in wax paper instead of a corn husk and is filled with high-quality cuts of beef.
Who is the owner of Ground Zero Blues Club?
The Ground Zero Blues Club is owned by actor Morgan Freeman.
What kind of establishment is the Delta Meat Market?
The Delta Meat Market is a butcher’s shop, restaurant, bar, and grocery store rolled into one, specializing in Southern foods.
Which place has been serving quality barbecue and tamales since before music made Clarksdale famous?
Abe’s BBQ and Tamales, which was opened by a Lebanese immigrant in 1924, has been serving quality barbecue and tamales since before music made Clarksdale famous.