This Saturday marked the fifth annual Tamales! Holiday Festival at Pearl, a celebration of all things tamale, under an amazing blue Texas sky and perfectly cool weather. I began my journey to find the best tamale. I skipped breakfast to make sure there was enough room in my stomach to consume every tamale possible. Needless to say, the mission was accomplished. Although I didn't find the best tamale, I did walk away with a great appreciation for the event and for the people who work hard to bring us their take on this timeless classic. Here are my three takeaways from this amazing event.
Have tamales gone mainstream?
Judging by the long lines and the people standing in them, people from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, the tamale has gone mainstream. Maybe not in the same way craft beer and cocktails have lately, but the tamale is no longer just in your abuelita's kitchen.
Tamales can be healthy.
Ever since I was a kid, I can remember my mother and godmother working away in the kitchen making tamales during the holiday season. I also remember them telling me, “The greasier the tamales, the better." Well, that may still be the case, but I found out you can actually have a healthy tamale without sacrificing taste. The folks down at One Lucky Duck had a Raw Vegan Tamale stuffed with portobello mushroom filling. I have to admit, it was pretty darn good and held up against some of the more traditional tamales.
These are not your abuelita's tamales.
“The tamales are a changin," as Bob Dylan said. Okay, he never said that. But it is true. It used to be, at least to me, a tamale was one of those things where you combined a little bit of masa with a lot of stuffing, usually seasoned pork or refried beans. Not anymore. The folks at Delicious Tamales offered an “Atomic Tamale." I promised myself that I wouldn’t try this combo of masa and ghost pepper by owner Valerie Gonzalez. “Some people tell me that they never knew you could have full-body heartburn," she said. She was right. After one bite, I was begging for a glass of milk.
Overall, this was an amazing event for San Antonio. People from all parts of the city come to the Pearl to enjoy a nice afternoon of music, beer, and that San Antonio tradition, the tamale. If you haven't been to Tamales! at Pearl, I recommend you go next year and enjoy what this city has to offer.
*Featured/top image: Valerie Gonzalez, owner of Delicious Tamales, displaying the "Atomic Tamale" with ghost peppers. Photo by Jaime Solis.