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Tastes of Natchez, Mississippi

tamales

Waitress Sara Phillips serves up baskets of tamales at Fat Mama’s in Natchez by Brett Gover

When I think of Southern food, I think of things like fried chicken, grits, collard greens, and hush puppies. But on this road trip I’ve learned that tamales have been a big part of Mississippi’s cuisine since the early part of the last century.

Mississippi tamales are invariably called hot tamales, and they’re somewhat different from traditional Mexican tamales. For example, they’re smaller, they’re usually made with corn meal instead of masa harina, and they’re typically boiled in a spicy broth rather than steamed. The meat is usually ground beef or ground pork or a combination of the two instead of the traditional shredded pork.

donunts

Terri Banks of The Donut Shop holding a tray of freshly made doughnuts in Natchez by Brett Gover

I had my first hot tamales here in Natchez, at a place called Fat Mama’s. An hour or so later, I spoke with a native Natchezian who said I should also try the tamales at a place called The Donut Shop. (Yes, a doughnut shop that also sells tamales.) In the name of research, I headed there straightaway. And—again in the name of research—I figured I should try the doughnuts, too. They were amazingly good. After two doughnuts (one glazed, one chocolate-frosted) I left in a hurry before I was tempted to order more.

The Southern Foodways Alliance, based in Oxford, Mississippi, has mapped out a “Tamale Trail” along the Mississippi River and gathered oral histories of some of the state’s iconic tamale-makers. Check out the organization’s website at www.southernfoodways.com.—Brett Gover