The holiday season is here and, in San Antonio, tamales rule the land. It's more than a unique delicacy. For many local families, it's a tradition as tamale recipes are handed down from generation to generation.
To honor this age-old tradition, we take a look at the best places in town to grab tamales, the Pearl’s popular tamale festival, and even a recipe so you can try your hand at making tamales at home.
San Antonio’s top five tamale destinations:
Tamales are made daily at Delicious' headquarters on the city's west side. Created by Valerie Gonzalez, Delicious Tamales meets a need possessed by individuals, businesses, and groups that seek tamales on demand and in big numbers. Tamales are available for pickup, hot or cold, and can be shipped anywhere in the nation.
Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa
This is a place where you can have tamales for breakfast or lunch. Tellez's selections include pork, chicken, and bean, with jalapeño versions of those three. San Antonians know that barbacoa and Big Red go together on a Saturday or Sunday morning. But tamales and Big Red pair together just as well.
Mimi's Barbacoa and Tamales Y Mas
Mimi’s also has pork, chicken, bean, and pork with jalapeño, and strives to make its tamales as flavorful as the equally popular barbacoa.
Ruben's Homemade Tamales
Ruben's is a legend in local circles. The building's exterior belies the goodness that exists within. Customers, some of whom have patronized Ruben's for decades, swear by the meat-to-masa ratio. And like with most other family-owned San Antonio spots that specialize in tamales, when you visit Ruben's to pick some up over the holidays, prepare to wait in line.
Adelita Tamales & Tortilla Factory
First off, full disclosure: Adelita is located not even a mile from my childhood home. It's easy to see why mi familia has made Adelita the place of choice for holiday tamales. It's not just the short walk there, it's that the Borrego family business has been operating since before World War II, putting lots of heart and soul (read: family recipes and experience) into the products it serves.
Tamales! Holiday Festival:
Just how popular are tamales during the holiday season? San Antonio has its own annual event that’s all about them. Pearl will host its sixth annual Tamales! Holiday Festival from noon to 5 pm on December 5.
Attendees at the event will be able to sample tamales from nearly 40 vendors, such as Alfonso’s Tamales, Chilito’s, Cocina Heritage, Tamale Addiction, and Rosita’s Tamales. Samples will range from classic Tex-Mex and South American styles to contemporary twists.
There also will be music, beverages, and other fun activities to get visitors in the holiday spirit.
"When we started the festival in 2009, we wanted to celebrate something authentic to the holidays in San Antonio. What’s more iconic than this city’s love of tamales during the weeks leading up to Christmas?" asks Shelley Grieshaber, Pearl's culinary director. "Also, we were shocked to find out that back six years ago, no one else had thought about having an event centered around tamales."
The making of tamales, no matter the type, is an art form: It takes time and patience. Sharing of the delicious final product is what helps brings friends and family together over the holidays. A tamalada is a common happening for most families.
"This is a tradition I hope lasts for generations to come because it’s about sharing: sharing family recipes, sharing stories, sharing laughter and maybe heartache, which finally ends in sharing a meal. What’s better than that?" Grieshaber asks.
Traditional homemade tamale recipe:
If you’re not adventurous enough to try pineapple, pumpkin, or raisin tamales, here’s one traditional pork tamale recipe, courtesy of the San Antonio Public Library.
5 pounds pork
3-5 dried red poblano peppers
1/4 cup mixed whole cumin and pepper
3 garlic pods, peeled
1-2 cups meat broth
Salt to taste
Boil, broil, bake, or slow-cook the meat, which can be chopped or shredded. Save the broth for the masa and filling. Clean peppers and boil in 1 cup for five minutes. Blend the pepper with mixed cumin, pepper seed, and garlic until a paste is formed and all the spices are ground up. Place chopped meat in a large pot and add broth, pepper and garlic paste, and salt. Mix all ingredients. Use immediately or refrigerate overnight, allowing the seasonings to permeate into the meat.
5 pounds fresh masa
1 pound lard
l cup vegetable shortening
1/8 cup salt
1/4 cup chili powder
2 cups broth or water
1/8 cup baking powder
1/8 cup garlic powder (optional)
Place masa in large bowl and break into pieces. Melt lard and shortening on low heat; add chili powder and salt, and mix. Stir broth, baking powder, and garlic powder together. Gradually combine broth and lard mixture to masa. Mix well after each addition. Masa should be smooth. Let masa rest 10 minutes. Spread fast and easy using a masa spreader. Add the pork filling (or your other favorite filling) and steam cook for one-and-a-half to two hours.
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