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Holiday Tamales

ipsedixit Dec 7, 2013 02:43 PM

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.


  1. Gypsy Jan Dec 7, 2013 03:48 PM

    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: Gypsy Jan
      ipsedixit Dec 7, 2013 04:26 PM

      Me too.

      I need to date more Mexicans.

      1. re: ipsedixit
        Beach Chick Dec 7, 2013 04:52 PM

        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
          ipsedixit Dec 7, 2013 06:27 PM

          Veggo already dumped me a while back.

          Something about a Filet-O-Fish ...


          1. re: ipsedixit
            cstr Dec 15, 2013 04:59 AM

            Could have been worse, like a McRib.

      2. re: Gypsy Jan
        julesrules Dec 7, 2013 06:36 PM

        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
          DoctorChow Dec 7, 2013 06:58 PM

          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. c
        Cathy Dec 7, 2013 06:54 PM

        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
          ipsedixit Dec 7, 2013 06:56 PM

          Good thought.

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


          1. re: ipsedixit
            DoctorChow Dec 7, 2013 11:27 PM

            Remains to be seen how relaxed they are.

            Lemonade stands need not apply.

        2. Ed Dibble Dec 13, 2013 01:53 PM

          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
            DoctorChow Dec 13, 2013 02:37 PM

            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
              DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 03:17 PM

              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
                DoctorChow Dec 13, 2013 03:28 PM

                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
                  DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 10:28 PM

                  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
                    DoctorChow Dec 14, 2013 11:22 AM

                    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
                      DiningDiva Dec 14, 2013 01:59 PM

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

            2. re: Ed Dibble
              ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 07:42 PM

              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
                DoctorChow Dec 13, 2013 07:47 PM

                Someone needs to organize something like it here.

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

                1. re: DoctorChow
                  ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 07:58 PM

                  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: ipsedixit
                    DoctorChow Dec 13, 2013 08:00 PM

                    Yeah. Point taken.

                    1. re: DoctorChow
                      ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 08:01 PM

                      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
                        DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 08:05 PM

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

                  2. re: DoctorChow
                    DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 08:03 PM

                    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
                      ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 08:04 PM


                      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
                        DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 08:15 PM

                        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
                          ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 08:39 PM

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

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 10:44 PM

                            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
                              ipsedixit Dec 14, 2013 06:37 PM

                              Interesting. Gracias.

                  3. re: ipsedixit
                    DiningDiva Dec 13, 2013 07:58 PM

                    Even Bakersfield?????

                    1. re: DiningDiva
                      ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 08:00 PM

                      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. n
                  NParker Dec 13, 2013 03:23 PM

                  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
                    ipsedixit Dec 13, 2013 07:43 PM

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

                    The tamales, or the Mexican hot chocolate?

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