If you’re lucky, you either know or work at a business where the “tamale lady” randomly shows up, opens the trunk of her car, and delivers authentic, delicious, homemade tamales onsite. Most people are unaware of this type of local luxury, given the time and effort it actually takes to prepare tamales. Fortunately, West Salem houses a truly authentic Central American–style tamale shop, and you can get them most days of the week! Ingrid Trujillo, also known as Abuelita (Little Grandmother), has devoted her life to preparing and serving the perfect tamales.
Cachet is the inconspicuous name of the little tamale shop on the corner of Wallace and Glen Creek roads in West Salem. The meaning in Spanish holds more verity than the name might suggest. According to Abuelita, “It means, a small place with good food.” And that it is! Ingrid’s tamale shop has been open for four years, but she has owned and operated multiple beauty salons in the past. How does one make the leap from hair stylist to tamale maestra? “I like business, my profession is business and I’m a good cook,” Ingrid says. After seventeen years of operating the beauty salons, Ingrid decided to put her cooking talents to the test and took a risk to open Cachet.
“It’s hard to consistently find healthy, good tamales. I don’t use lard, and that’s the difference,” she continues, “I make Mexican-style tamales with the unique flavors of Central America using corn husks, which people are familiar with; but I also prepare them Guatemalan style using the banana leaf. Those are harder to find.” The vegetable tamale plate is a favorite amongst vegetarians and meat-eaters alike; and when asked about other favorite menu items Abuelita says, “People love our beans and rice. I make them from scratch using dried frijoles negros and my special spices. They love the flavor.” When Salem’s water is safe, Abuelita also conjures house-made Horchata—a cinnamon rice drink, and hibiscus tea, “We are not serving those now, but as soon as the water is safe we will make them again,” she adds.
So how does one make the perfect tamale? “It’s a process that takes about a week to prepare,” says Abuelita. Utilizing steam pots, Ingrid cooks the meat: chicken, pork, and beef with select spices, then shreds the meats by hand. The mild red salsa, which is layered inside of the meat tamales, is made from scratch the day before the tamales are to be assembled, steamed, and served. The veggie tamales are prepared with a green tomatillo salsa, which is also made fresh daily. “I like to use serrano peppers—I don’t use jalapeños. Everything is made in house, from scratch.”
Still the question remains: What is the secret to making a great tamale? “The Masa de Maíz!” Abuelita exclaims. Masa is a Spanish corn dough. “I make it fresh from scratch every morning, and I watch it while I’m making it. It has to be perfect! It takes all my energy and time to make it perfect. It takes heart to know—you have to taste it, you have to watch it, and you have to know when to stop. I have to see the texture develop. You never know until you see it. I have to wait until the masa gets to a good texture.”
A good texture combined with Abuelita’s special spices, indeed, makes a perfect tamale. Combine Ingrid’s tamales with her special health smoothies (fruit, spinach, and honey) and you have a balanced meal that will fill you up all day.
Ingrid is already planning and projecting her future, “I’m looking for a really nice place in Salem to open a restaurant serving authentic Central American food. I’d also like to open a little shop in Silverton.” In the meantime, you can drive up to the window of Abuelita’s little Cachet, or call in an order. She sells her fare until it runs out; typically 150-180 tamales a day. The tamale plate is a favorite which comes with 2 tamales of choice, and a side of rice and beans.
Large orders for holidays and special events can be called in ahead of time to serve numerous people in an easy fashion. “I put my effort in my business every single day to provide the best quality and flavor so that people can enjoy the tamales. The people can be confident that they are going to get good food. Your first bite will let you know.”