Hot Tamales! California celebrates the history of a steamy favorite


Photo by Phil Gold — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The International Tamale Festival originated in 1992, when Dave Hernandez, a former member of the Downtown Indio Merchants Association, decided that the delectable history of the tamale was good enough to share.

Named for the Spanish word for “Indian”, Indio is located halfway between Los Angeles and Yuma, Arizona. An important agricultural region, Indio is known for its citrus groves, date growers, vegetable fields, and of course, its tamales.

The tamale is a traditional indigenous American staple made from steam-cooked corn dough made from masa, a hominy. The dough is traditionally filled with either a sweet filling, such as fruit, or a savory mixtures of meats, cheeses and chilies. The masa is wrapped in plant leaves or corn husks and steamed until firm. Although it takes a lot of time and love to prepare a tamale, it doesn’t take a lot of time to gobble them up. Portable, tactilely pleasing and terrifically palatable, this is one finger food with a tasty past.

The International Tamale Festival always takes place on the first weekend in December (December 6th and 7th, this year) and the entrance is free. In addition to a host of renowned tamale makers from the community, the festival is kicked off with a colorful parade, followed by carnival rides, Folklorico Dancing, live music, and a tamale eating contest. The Tamale Festival has earned two different mentions in the Guinness Book of World Records: The World’s largest Tamale-over 1 foot in diameter and 40 feet in length, (Dec. 4, 1999) and The World’s largest tamale festival (120,000 in attendance, Dec. 2-3, 2000).

The International Tamale Festival was recently included as one of the top ten “All American Food Festivals” in the US by the Food Network.

Indio is also the home to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, cited by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the most beautiful festival sites in the world. Click here to learn more about delectable festivals in California.

Update: Would you like to know who took top tamale honors in this year’s festival? Find out more in this article from The Desert Sun.

- Courtney Maum

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