As promised from a post of late last night, today, I did indeed go to the Tamalli Space Charros food truck. I’d like to say that it was an experience, and (spoiler alert!) the food itself was good, but I think the theme of the day centered more around exploring the city and walking around with my iPod. In addition to listening to a great interview with Craig Ferguson that spanned 2 hours, ranging on topics from chance encounters with Billy Connolly and Peter Cook to every sober comedian’s worst fear that it was the booze that made them funny, it was a well-rounded piece of nerd-journalism that was a welcome addition to my morning/afternoon trip around the downtown.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. The food truck. Tamalli Space Charros was founded this past January by a trio of former workers at Frontera Grill with an emphasis on El Movimiento Estridentismo, or the Movement of Stridentism. A close cousin to the European Surrealism of Dali, Freud, and Breton, the Mexican Stridentism of 1921-1927 was a multidisciplinary art movement where  “Latin American poets, writers, journalists, photographers and musicians (but not painters) adopted aesthetic attitudes similar to those of the Futurists: they proclaimed the power of the future and the death of all things academic.” (1)

Whoa. So how does this translate to a food truck?

“We’re taking tamales to a new level, and to new audiences,” says the sombrero-clad leader of the group, who has asked to go by his character’s name, Aztlan Cardinal. The photographer and performance artist is speaking on behalf of the entire TSC Collective, a clutch of seven international artists who’ve appended their names to the Propeller Fund grant supporting the project. Their proposal outlines a “long-term performance art project addressing the interaction among body, food, machines, wireless poetry and the city”(2)

Did I see any of that when I walked up to the truck for my lunch? Nope. Still in its infancy, the truck itself was not looking particularly like a spaceship today. There was a fin running along the top painted with primary colors, and the truck itself was plain, with the look of brushed steel. Two things about this- one from my own musings on life and the future, and one life lesson that everyone should know: First, it’s not about fancy packaging (although the afforementioned sombrero and Luchadores mask was a nice touch). It’s what’s inside that counts. Second, and this may prove to be more important than the first- If movies and art have shown us anything at all, it is that if it looks like a spaceship, it’s probably not a spaceship. It’s either a Delorean or some guy in a Bigfoot suit, or some creepy combination of both. Looks can be deceiving. If this truly was an intergalactic messenger vessel of delicious tamales, this would be the perfect foil, wouldn’t it?

*Shakes fist* Woooouldn't iiiiiit!? (Yes.)

This week, I made the effort to check on their Tamale Spaceship website to see if they had a menu, so I could know beforehand what I was getting into. They did not, so I went in blind, again. Fortunately, I made it to the truck, and they had a menu for perusing. Take note, Chicago Food Trucks: Word of mouth is great, but having menus? A Must.

This menu resembles, but is not, the menu that I saw.

I got up to the counter, and sure enough, there was a smiling man in a Mexican wrestling mask, cape, and sombrero, who greeted me with a friendly “Hello, amigo. What can I get you?” For his sake, I’m glad that Chicago food trucks have not yet embraced cooking on site, because with that cape, it would soon be curtains for his outfit of choice for the day.

I ordered the two flank steak tamales and black mole  with sesame seeds. In addition, they also had Mexican Coca Cola and Jarritos. In hindsight, I should have ordered one, because although there wasn’t too much heat to the dishes, a tamale with meat and a heavy sauce will stick to your ribs, and all you’ll ever want is a bit of refreshment. I know nothing on a day such as today that would be as refreshing as one of those drinks, but alas, I wasn’t thinking.

Today,  they were parked on Clinton and Lake Street underneath the Green Line El stop. This, my Chicago and non-Chicago friends, is where the French Market is. I’ve been wanting to check it out for a while, but it’s a little bit out of the way if I’m walking. Since, however, it was right there, I decided to take my tamales and go in search of a fresh fruit accompaniment to my meal.

The French Market itself is not unlike other markets such as the Reading Terminal or my beloved Pike Place Market, but with music blaring and $50,000 meat cases cranking out chill, it all felt a little sterile to me, almost too clean. With the markets in which I have worked, I love that people bring their own goods, and that they set up their wares on sawhorses with planks and plywood tabletoppers. This didn’t have the same feel to me, and for a French-style market, the meat and seafood selections, once again, were sorely lacking.

(They were selling Farm-Raised Vietnam Swai as Sole fillet. Gross.)

However, upon wandering past the fresh pasta dunk-tanks and soulless, everpresent Teriyaki stall, tucked in the back corner, I found Frietkoten.

It’s a Belgian-style fry shop. They serve them in cones. With sauces. Game on.

The cones themselves are huge, and it’s $4 for a petit and $5 for a grand cone. With it, you get a cup of mayo and a cup of ketchup, and for 75¢ extra, you get one of their many sauces. I chose a green tomato and chili mayonaise, which didn’t remind me of anything but a mayonaise with a slightly more acidic tang to it.

So the sauce wasn’t great, but the fries now had their choice of not three, but four dipping sauces thanks to the mole (By the way, not the best combination). With my petit cone of fries, my two cups of mayo, ketchup, mole, and tamales, I made my way over to a standing table in the corner, and snapped this shot.

Not too shabby. The fries, which on the sign the owners painstakingly reminded us from multiple angles that they were fried twice, were twice fried, and a bit of alright. Piping hot, just a little bit of salt, and much better than any other fries I’d randomly pick up on a day off, they hit the spot. The spot after that was hit with my two tamales, which were moist with that bitter chocolate sauce tinged with a hint of tahini.

At that point, I wished I had a beer. While at Frietkoten they do serve Belgian beers from a bottle as well as two taps from Two Brothers and a hard cider or two, as I looked up from my pile of starch and meat, the counter just seemed too far away.

Oh, that cider sounded good, though.

***

As I walked back through the downtown with a wrestling match of dueling cuisines in my belly, I thought what a great city this is to have little places like a Euro Fryshack and, improbably enough, a Lucha/Charro style tamale truck. I’m fortunate to live in a city where things like this pop up all the time, but more than that, I realized that the scope of your culinary creativity is only limited by how far you are willing to go to achieve it. How many sauces will it take before people start coming back for the fries? Is it the masks, the tamales, or a combination of both that is going to set this business afloat? It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that makes me want to seek out and patronize places such as these, and if the idea and the food are both good, they’ll get me as a customer.

Check out the links below for more on Mexican Stridentism and the Mexican Food Truck experience. Also included is a fantastic slide show about the Tamalli Space Charros’ story. The pictures, while worth a look and a chuckle, prove that there is more to a tamale than meets the eye.

(1)  Mexican Stridentism- What Is It?

(2)Here’s Your Art. Now Eat It.

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