Voices: November/December 2017

We asked six tamale makers: What makes a great tamale?

November 11, 2017

Issue 27: November/December 2017Voices

Herminia Serino.

The first thing I think is passion. Once you have that, your tamale is going to be great. Since I was a little girl, I had a dream to make the best tamale anywhere. Now I feel like I’m on my way. This tradition comes from my great-grandmother, she passed it to my grandmother, my grandmother passed it to my mom. It made me dream, “One day I’m going to do this myself.”

I make my own masa and I use organic ingredients that I buy in Mexico. This is one of my secrets—best ingredients make the best tamale. I try to keep the same flavors using only vegetarian and vegan ingredients. Tofu with red chile. Spinach and black beans. Every other Wednesday we sell tamales at the UA. The students know I use the best ingredients to make them happy. I am a cancer survivor for eight years. I take care of me and my customers—that was one thing I promised myself.

Sinaloa tamales are more work. We add more vegetables to the meat tamales. In a normal tamale, we put tomatoes, onions, potatoes. It’s like a complete meal in one tamale.

The best way to eat tamales is when I’ve just made them. My husband says the best way to eat tamales is right out of the pot.

Available at the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market, Green Valley Farmers’ Market, UA Main Campus Farmers’ Market.

Anna M. Salazar and Elias Salazar.

Elias: There are two main things about making green corn tamales. You want to have fresh corn. The fresher the corn, the better the tamales will taste. And having the right portion of manteca, or pork lard. That brings out all the flavors. It’s a recipe that’s been around for over five generations.

Anna: My mom learned from my grandma. Even when we were young, we were making tamales and helping her. On Christmas we would help my mom make the tamales. We’d work all day on Christmas Eve. So they were ready for midnight.

I must have been 14 or 15. And with my grandmother, too, before she passed away.

Elias: My grandmother, my mother’s mom, in the ’80s she was known for her green tamales, red chile tamales, sweet bean tamales. She started handing down more of the information to my mother, to the family. We picked it up, and we’ve continued the tradition. It’s important now, our family, cousins, aunts and uncles, they come to us—they used to come to my grandmother—they ask for the tamales. They flock after the green corn.

Available for friends and family.

Marjava Ramirez, Andrina Ramirez and Julian Ramirez.

To make the best tamale is all in the masando. How you mix the masa together, the ingredients together. If you don’t have the right ingredients or the right consistency of the lard, you can put too much or not enough. In my red tamales I use everything fresh. I don’t use powdered chile, I use fresh chile pods. I think that’s what makes mine the best. As my daughter tells me: You just have to make love to the tamales.

We’ve always made tamales for the holidays. That’s a big tradition for our culture. Everybody does tamales for Christmas.

This bowl belonged to my grandmother. When she passed away, they left it to me. My grandfather engraved it, he said, “Por un recuerdo.” A memory of us. The reason he left it to me is that I would always help him make the tamales. Every year. That was our tradition. I was about 10 years old when I started making tamales. Me and my nana would do the masando.

The best way to eat a tamale is in the morning, with some coffee. I like the green corn.

Available for friends and family.

Aida Sepulveda, Isabella Gonzalez and Aracely Gonzalez.

Aracely: Natural ingredients—chiles, meats. All natural. I think that’s the best way to make them.

Isabella: Love. I think what makes the best tamale is who makes it for you.

Aracely: The masa is prepared all by hand—we don’t use any machines. It’s the way we grew up making them, since I was a little girl. It’s a great experience when you involve all your family members—my mom, my grandma, my sister, we get together, especially for holidays. It’s a family tradition, and now my daughter is part of that tradition. It’s a great way to pass it on generation to generation.

Isabella: When I was 5, me and my cousin were making [the masa]. We were doing the paste. We probably got ourselves super dirty. All over our hands. We tried cleaning it but our hands got super sticky. The best way to eat a tamale is when you’re with your family and then you put your fork in and you cut it.

Aracely: Enjoy it with your family and friends. With a side of beans and really good salsa.

Available at Crossroads Restaurant. 2602 S. Fourth Ave.

Luis Gonzalez Sr., with Sandra Gonzalez, Luis Gonzalez Jr.

I believe it’s the ingredients and the love you put into it. It’s a family. Being loyal to our recipe.

Salvadorian tamales have been around since … a long time ago. For generations, tamales have been very important for the holidays for every family in El Salvador. We use the banana leaf instead of cornhusks. There are plenty of banana leaves and it gives a hint of a different flavor for our tamales.

The way we do our masa is different than any other country’s masa. We cook it twice. We use different spices.

Our abuelitas, they used to cook tamales for the holidays. It’s been through my mom. It’s important for us. Our family came up with our vegan tamale recipe. We use beans and some other Salvadorian veggies. Here there are more veggies we can use.

The best way to eat a tamale? It’s great to get it from the pot to your mouth—that’s the best way to eat a tamale.

Available at the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park.

Diana Delgado, Lorena Islava.

The preparation. The preparation of the masa and the preparation of the meat with chile. That’s what makes a tamale delicious. My secret ingredient is … well, everything. The chile. And the preparation of the chile, when you put it into the masa. I use chile from New Mexico from Food City. The chile comes whole. I cook it and later I put in tomato and a little piece of onion.

My mom taught me how to make tamales. We always made tamales in December, but they were always around. I was 15 when I started making tamales.

The best way to eat a tamale is how I have it now—with rice and beans. ✜

Available at Taqueria Pico de Gallo. 2618 S. Sixth Ave.

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