Tamales at Pearl: A San Antonio Tradition

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Tamale! Holiday Festival guests enjoy tamales and drinks under one of the many portable heaters. Heated tents were also strategically placed around the Pearl to provide relief from the cold. Photo by Jesse Torres.

Tamale! Holiday Festival guests enjoy tamales and drinks under one of the many portable heaters. Heated tents were also strategically placed around the Pearl to provide relief from the cold. Photo by Jesse Torres.

In San Antonio, it’s not Christmas without tamales. Whether they are given as gifts or part of Christmastime meals, tamales are central to the holiday season.

This time of year, many families across the area gather together for an annual tamalada to make tamales from scratch using recipes handed down over generations. Others put in their order at a local tamale shop.

Whether you make or order these delicious bundles of masa and meat, tamales are a must-have holiday treat and are part of many a Texans’ holiday memories.

Inspired by this local holiday tamale tradition and all the memories that come with it, the fifth annual Tamales! Holiday Festival will be from noon-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at Pearl. In past years, the festival has attracted up to 20,000 people for food, fun, music, culture, and activities for kids.

San Antonians enjoying last year's Tamale! Holiday Festival.  Photo courtesy of Pearl.

San Antonians enjoying last year’s Tamale! Holiday Festival. Photo courtesy of Pearl.

The tamales, of course, are the main attraction. More than 30 food vendors will be serving up their very best tamales. From the old standbys like Los Barrios to the San Antonio newcomers such as Tacos and Tequila, there’s a tamale maker to suit everyone’s taste.

Michelle Manon, owner of Tamahli, was one of the vendors at the very first festival and has participated each year since.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” Manon said. “The Festival is a great opportunity to learn what tamales are all about. Many people aren’t aware there are more than 7,500 different types of tamales across Mexico. There are differences depending on the state and even the town.”

Tamahli’s specialty is tamales from Central and Southern Mexico. Tamales in the south are usually wrapped in banana leaves as opposed to corn husks, which gives them a unique flavor and a distinctive gift-like look.

Tamahil's specialty tamales. Photo courtesy of Tamahil's.

Tamahli’s specialty tamales. Photo courtesy of Tamahli’s.

Manon is excited to bring a variety of tamales to this year’s festival. “Our Holy Moley is delicious – masa, chicken, and mole wrapped in a banana leaf,” Manon explained, “and we’ll have our First Kiss cinnamon and pecan tamales which are amazing with a bit of hot chocolate or a cup of coffee.”

In addition to Manon’s tamales, the many other vendors will offer traditional tamales as well as types from other parts of Mexico. And new this year, several food trucks will join in the fun. Bring your appetite!

Tamales! Holiday Festival is for everyone. It’s free to attend and food items range from $1 to $5.

Insider Tips

  • The weekly Pearl Farmers Market will take place during its usual hours from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Time your trip so you can visit the market and Tamales! Holiday Festival.
  • Bring the kids. An awesome children’s activity area will be hosted by the Do Seum.
  • It will get crowded and there is a lot of food around. It may be best to leave untrained puppies at home for this one.
  • There will be an ATM onsite, so don’t worry if you forget cash.

*Featured/top image: Tamale! Holiday Festival guests enjoy tamales and drinks under one of the many portable heaters. Heated tents were also strategically placed around Pearl to provide relief from the cold. Photo by Jesse Torres.

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