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Dec 7, 2013 02:43 PM

Holiday Tamales

Do you have a favorite place to get tamales (other than la casa de la mamá)?

If so, I would love to hear about it.


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  1. The Tamale Conundrum

    The best tamales I have had were served in the homes of the friends who invited me to share their meal.

    I can't find a good tamale anywhere in a commercial establishment north or south of the border.

    I have tried.

    This delicious food and its production is still something that Mexican families hold close.

    6 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I think you and my beloved Veggo should start dating.

        He's a Nordic God that speaks Spanish and has a home in the Yucatan and in Florida.

        I like the tamales from Costco..the chili and cheese and I gussy them up but they're far from the beauties in D.F. Mexico.

        1. re: Beach Chick

          Veggo already dumped me a while back.

          Something about a Filet-O-Fish ...


          1. re: ipsedixit

            Could have been worse, like a McRib.

      2. re: Gypsy Jan

        I live in a place (Toronto) with a very small Mexican population. The state of Mexican food is not good and you don't often hear Spanish spoken.
        One early morning, riding the bus through a very dense area populated mainly with new immigrants, I saw through my morning haze a simple sign on a bus shelter with phone number tearaways at the bottom....
        Se venden tamales.
        I never saw the sign again, and still regret that I did not jump off the bus post haste to grab the number of the tamale entrepreneur.

        1. re: julesrules

          I think your point is that "la casa de la mamá" -- to quote ipse -- rules, tamale-wise, and if a similar offering is posted here, one should jump at the opportunity.

          My companion used to teach elementary school bilingual classes and from time to time the mothers would bring in home-made tamales that they'd sell for $1 each...and they were always great! I haven't had tamales anywhere in SD that are better than that.

      3. Hang around a Catholic Church in Nestor, Chula Vista, Barrio Logan, Mid-City, Escondido or Valley Center on Sunday; someone will be selling tamales after mass. They will be excellent.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Cathy

          Good thought.

          In fact, this should be even more common now since CA relaxed the "homemade food" laws, no?

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Remains to be seen how relaxed they are.

            Lemonade stands need not apply.

        2. December 21 is Tamale Festival in Somerton AZ. Yeh, I know, 3 hours away, but 30 or more vendors of different homemade tamales - many available by the dozen to go - of more styles and varieties than I knew existed. Starts at 11 am and continues long after my bedtime.

          And many of them are the best tamales I've ever eaten.

          20 Replies
          1. re: Ed Dibble

            It's too bad we don't have something like this in our area. (If we do, I, at least, have never heard of it.) Kind of like a special-case "farmers market" for holiday tamales. Sounds great! I'm sure that our local farmers markets will have some. But 30 homemade tamale vendors at one place -- wow!

            1. re: DoctorChow

              There is the tamal vendor at the Little Italy and Hillcrest farmers markets (and I think they hit up other ones too). I wodner if they do a holiday tamal.

              What is your interpretation of a "holiday tamale"?

              1. re: DiningDiva

                I think of tamales the way I do with other foods for the holidays: Extra special quality pork or beef, and maybe special spices or a special sauce. Also, sweet tamales with fruit, again made with special attention and ingredients.

                I've never made a tamale in my life, by the way, but have happily been on the receiving end during the holidays from time to time!

                Is your interpretation different?

                1. re: DoctorChow

                  It may be :-)

                  There are a million varieties of tamales and every family will most likely have a special or traditional tamal they serve for special occasions. For me it's the quality of the masa and not the filling that is more important. The lighter, airier, and fluffier the masa, the better the tamal.

                  I love, love, love tamales de zarza...blackberry tamales. The blackberry is not the filling, it is pureed - blackberries are very inexpensive in Mexico - and mixed into the masa creating a tamal that is this deep purple color.

                  One of my other favs is a tamal that has piloncillo (drk brown sugar), plumped raisins and finely crumbled chicharrones mixed into the masa. No filling. These are just filled and steamed.

                  Then there are all the versions made in banana leaves

                  Or the one with a whole piece of chicken, olives and mole de olla

                  Or the chocolate tamal my friend Ricardo makes that's filled with fresh raspberries and then finished with raspberry coulis and crema

                  Or a tamal filled with chile strips and fresh cheese

                  Or a uchepo made from a batter of fresh field corn, unfilled, and eaten with a salsa de chile cascabel and crema.

                  There are thousands of mole recipes in Mexico and probably and equal number of recipes and variations for tamales. What's holiday or traditional in Sinaloa or Nuevo Leon might not be holiday or traditional in Veracruz or Tabasco

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    All of these sound truly wonderful, DD. Any of them would make for a great holiday treat! Your experience is clearly far more extensive than mine, though. Lucky you!

                    Alas, my companion doesn't like tamales, so the only times I've had special, festive ones have been when the school moms brought them in around Christmas (while she was still teaching) and at friends' houses during the holidays.

                    1. re: DoctorChow

                      Tamales from moms and friends are usually the best, holiday or not :-)

            2. re: Ed Dibble

              I've actually been there. The biggest problem is that it's in Yuma, which makes all other armpits in America feel like Paris (in France, in case you were wondering).

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Someone needs to organize something like it here.

                Or are the laws so different here that it isn't practical?

                1. re: DoctorChow

                  In all seriousness, it's hard to do in a place like San Diego.

                  San Diego, just the city itself, is a bit too spread out. Between parking logistics, travel, space, etc., it's too hard to do. And I'm not sure there's the demand for tamales to justify doing it.

                  Yuma as a city really hasn't progressed much beyond what you saw in "3:10 to Yuma". Except now you have more border patrol agents, and more meth traffic.

                    1. re: DoctorChow

                      What's a bit odd is that there aren't tamale vendors that pop up at the various Farmers Markets.

                      Or are there?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Yes, there are tamale vendors at a lot of the farmers markets

                  1. re: DoctorChow

                    There are probably more tamal vendors - commercial and non-commercial - in Yuma than in SD. San Diego is consumed by carne asada in any and all forms to the detriment of other Mexican foods.

                    Tamal torta anyone...

                    1. re: DiningDiva


                      Have you had the chance to try the various regional Mexican offerings in the greater Phoenix-Scottsdale area? If so, I would be very interested in your thoughts about that area's Mexican cuisines, esp. as it relates and contrasts to what is in SD.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I spend as little time in AZ as possible. Next to Florida it is one of my least favorite states in the U.S. (with sincere apologies to anyone who loves either state, just not my cup of tea...or anyghing else)

                        Ipse, I think what you will find in AZ is more oriented towards Sonoran style food than SD, and SD more towards Sinaloa and Jalisco. One of the easiest ways to look at the differences is to look at immigration patterns, particularly those from the old Bracero program when crossing north was easy and legal.

                        There is - as there always - is more, but I'm currently mobile and typing with one finger too slow :-)

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          Thank you for that DD. And very much appreciate the effort on your part, and that one overworked digit!

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            There are 2 books that partially address this question.

                            Taco USA by Gilbert Arrellano (yeah, the guy that writes the Ask a Mexican column for the OC Reader)

                            Planet Taco by Jeffery Pilcher who is a history professor at the University of Minnesota.

                            Contrary to popular belief, tacos are not some ancient pre-Colombian food item. They're actually a fairly recent dish. But to understand the development of the taco, both authors spent extensive time delving into the history and legacy of the tamale vendors of the early 20th century.

                            Both books take a look at immigration patterns and how they affected the food in the areas (or States) where larger number of people from a community or Mexican state tended to settle. I know for sure that the Pilcher book did have a section on Mexican food in Arizona, I can't remember if the Arrellano book did or not, I want to say it did, but don't quote me on that.

                            I think the one thing you have to remember with respect to SD is that for a long time it was a "pass through" town. Mexicans crossing as part of the Bracero program passed through on their way to the fields in Central CA, there was really no reason to stop. Later Mexican who crossed illegally wanted to put as much distance between them and the border as possible, so they kept going. Still other, had family or the promise of a job in places like L.A. and Chicago, so they had no reason to stay in SD. It wasn't until probably the late 70s, early 80s that SD became a more viable destination to stay put for those crossing.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      When the unofficial (but real) model to your city is "come for the cheap meth, stay for the date shakes" .. yes, it's THAT much worse than Bakersfield.

                2. The cart in front of the liquor store at El Cajon & 35th. $2 each, usually pretty tasty. Beef, chicken, pork, rajas and pineapple. They often sell a champurrado (drink) as well. It's not fancy, but we like 'em.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: NParker

                    It's not fancy, but we like 'em.

                    The tamales, or the Mexican hot chocolate?

                  2. Anyone have any updates in this area (where to get some good holiday tamales in town)?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Neekoman

                      Carnival is selling tamales from an outdoor cart today and tomorrow (only). Haven't been this year, but I picked up a few last year and they were pretty tasty, especially for the price (I think a dollar each). Nothing super special, but several kinds, all flavorful and fresh.

                      1. re: DoctorChow

                        Never been there. Just Googled it. You're referring to the grocery stores in Clairemont and National City?

                        1. re: Neekoman

                          Yes. Actually, I was on a mission today in the Convoy area and swung by the one in Clairemont on my way home. It was a different setup than last year. They only had four kinds when I stopped by: chicken, cheese, pineapple, and one other. Maybe that was because it was fairly late in the afternoon.

                          I bought just one (chicken) because I'd just eaten. Pretty good. The chicken was just a little dry but the masa was great (plain, but excellent). Even DD might approve.

                      2. re: Neekoman

                        I'm told the tamale lady at the Mercato makes good ones. Never tried myself, however.