La Borinquena in Old Oakland, and a Tina Tamale podcast
Posted in Good Ideas / Places / San Francisco Bay Area / Videos and Podcasts | 1 Comment |
Tina Ramos is a vivacious, energetic woman. Her cheeks are almost always pinched into circles from her warm smile, and her lustrous black hair shines like an inherited heirloom from the women who came before her – and made tamales before her. You’ll recognize her around town if you’re a regular at Oakland events and festivals – one night she’ll be selling tamale bites at Broadway’s street food extravaganza, the next she’ll be schmoozing at the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation Gala, the next she’ll be running a social media class for fellow small business owners in her native Old Oakland. Some ponder whether she’s part energizer bunny, but her busyness is anything but mechanical.
I’ve known her, and her family’s delectable tamales, since I began documenting Oakland’s abundance. I’ve always been impressed, but mostly inspired, by her can-do attitude and her strong ties with family traditions. She seemed to bring the here and now together with the past in the most delicious of ways.
She recently sat down with me, listen in!
Tina Tamale, as she’s known, is synonymous with La Borinquena, one of the oldest continuously-operating businesses in Oakland, founded by her grandmother Rosa, almost 70 years ago. It’s a “mexicatessen” – a casual cafeteria-style restaurant that, in addition to the daily menu, sells many Mexican staples like handmade tortillas, at least six types of dried peppers, luscious goat’s milk chocolate spread, fresh chicharrones, lard-fried tortilla chips, dried hibiscus, and tamarind pods. If you get there in the morning you’ll see an influx of port workers coming in for their “dinner” after working a long shift while extended family – either blood relatives or employees who have worked here for dozens of years, no discrepancy – cart out that day’s tortillas, so recently made that condensation forms inside the plastic bags.
There are several types of tamales, the traditional pork and red sauce, and the popular chicken or pork with green sauce, as well as a vegan version stuffed with stewed potatoes and green beans and made with lard-free masa. I love the green chili and cheese tamales, and I have yet to try the sweet pineapple-cinnamon dessert tamales. Soon… All the tamales are made from start to finish around a large steel table in the back kitchen beginning with stone-ground masa, house-rendered lard, and as Tina would say and one can easily witness from stealing a peek, “lots of love.”
Along the cafeteria line there’s also at least one type of Mexican soup, a stewy veggie chicken or meatball or birra, made with goat’s meat, and all the fixins for burritos and tacos. Huevos Rancheros are served in the mornings. The horchata and tamarindo drinks are made from scratch. Tina is there a few days a week, but more often during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas when tamales are in the highest demand.
Tamales are a celebratory food with a rich tradition of being shared during times when families are gathered together. You can order tamales from La Borinquena, made fresh the day of your desired pick-up day, and make them a part of your holiday tradition. The best way to place an order at this time is to call 510-444-9954. You will be able to speak to someone, probably Tina, during business hours Mon-Fri 9a-3:30p, Sat 9a-5p or leave a message when they’re closed, Sundays and holidays.