Discover the hidden world of New Brunswick’s back-alley tamales

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Many people have been told at one time or another to never walk down strange, dark alleys alone.

But News 12 New Jersey’s Brian Donohue ignored that advice recently when he noticed a sign in New Brunswick for someone selling tamales.

He says his thoughts were that sometimes the best food is found off the beaten path, so he decided to throw caution to the wind and walk down an unfamiliar alley to the kitchen of Reina Martinez.

Donohue says that Martinez’s handmade tamales are some of the best he’s ever had. Her kitchen smells of marinating chili peppers, tortillas and handmade chicken and pork tamales made the way her mother taught her in a small village in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Martinez lives in New Brunswick with her 22-year-old twins. She used to work in factories, finding work through a temp agency before she hurt herself in a car accident. Now she sells tortillas and tamales in the neighborhood to help pay her bills.

New Brunswick has a big tradition of this type of homemade food. Down the street is a shop owned by Felipe Aparicio, a local legend better known as “Felipe Tortilla.”

Aparicio also came from Oaxaca. He came to the United States in the 1970s and started selling tortillas door-to-door.

“We would knock on the door and say ‘The tortillas arrived,’” Aparicio says.

Aparicio got his papers during the Reagan Amnesty in 1986 and went on to own a string of stores and restaurants. There are at least three Mexican folk songs written about him back in Mexico, which he constantly plays inside his shop.

No one is sure any songs will be written about Martinez and her tamales. But he says he will sing her praises. He says that food always tastes better when you know the story behind it.

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