Pursuing the Tamale—a Holiday Tradition

by John Stapleton, Contributing Editor

One of the most popular traditions this time of year is getting in your order of tamales for Christmas or New Year’s parties.

If you are not from the Southwest, the talk of “where to get tamales?” may still be a curiosity for you. Should you go the store? Should you go to a Mexican restaurant? In both cases, the answer is usually: “No!”


It’s not that your favorite place for a burrito won’t have good tamales, but they are usually served as a complete meal with beans and rice, smothered in sour cream, not sold by the dozen. With store tamales, you might get lucky with those freezer brands, but beware of authenticity and ingredients used to preserve the storage life.

Many restaurants will use a store brand tamale because making fresh tamales is an extensive operation. Always ask who makes them before you place an order.

People are lucky when they have a family member or friend who cooks them. If you are wondering about those people walking up to you in the grocery store parking lot selling them, vet them as best you can.

Erika Manrique has earned the prestigious title of The Tamale Lady in Maricopa. She is licensed by the health department and can be seen at events during the holiday season selling tamales.

“People looking to buy tamales for the first time often want to try different variations to see what they like,” Manrique says. “The great thing about tamales is there are so many different styles from sweet tamales for a dessert or a traditional red-chile meat, which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.”

If you are looking to make your own with a web recipe, Manrique advises visiting stores that specialize in Hispanic products. Some stores like Food City sell masa, which will reduce your time in the kitchen.

“It is very rewarding to make your own tamales,” Manrique says. “But it is a lot of work, so be prepared with friends and family to help out, and maybe have some wine or margaritas to make a party out of it.”

Manrique also says through lots of failure, one day you will get your formula right, and you may end up as the Tamale Lady, too.