Entertaining | How to host a tamalada (Mexican tamale-making party)


How to host a tamalada (Mexican tamale-making party)

If you’ve never before heard of a tamalada then get ready for what could be the next best invention in food-based entertaining. A tamalada is is a traditional Mexican event where groups of family and friends gather together to make tamales, often around Christmastime. What’s a tamale? Let’s start there…

What are tamales and why do they make great party food?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish made of masa (a corn-derived dough), stuffed with various fillings, then steamed in a corn leaf or banana leaf. Tamales have a very long history in Mexico, originating in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 BC and were used by the Aztecs and Mayans as easily portable food for hunters, soldiers, and travellers.

Tamales are a wonderfully satisfying and delicious example of traditional Mexican fare with endless adaptations. Making them is also a bit of a labour of love - making the fillings, kneading the dough, stuffing the tamales, and assembling the parcels for steaming takes time and effort. And so, the tamale party was born, wherein everyone comes together to pitch in, stories are shared, and memories are made. Tamaladas are typically held in autumn and winter, particularly around Christmas as a multi-generational multi-family event. But there’s no reason you can’t hold a tamale party any time of year.

Photo by iotae via Flickr

How to make tamales

If you’re going to host a tamalada then it’s best to get acquainted with the steps involved in making a tamale. It’s a bit of an art form, and expect you and your guests to learn as you go. Here’s a summary with some useful links to get you started:

  1. Assemble your fillings. Anything goes, really, and feel free to get creative here: meat, cheese, vegetables, beans, even fruit can work in a tamale. Pork in red chile sauce is a popular tamale filling, as well as shredded chicken with green salsa. For a vegetarian version, try these feta and sweet potato tamales, or sweetcorn with black beans and cheese. The options are endless!

  2. Make the dough. The dough is made from masa harina, aka corn masa, combined with pork lard or vegetable shorting and stock. Rick Bayless's basic tamal dough is a good recipe to get you started.

  3. Assemble the tamales. A corn husk or banana leaf is usually used to wrap each tamale. This is where the artistry comes in. The dough gets smeared onto the husk, and then the trick is assembling just enough filling to be able to roll up the dough to totally encase the filling (it’s easy to overfill). Check out these step by step photos for a useful demo.

  4. Steam the tamales for about 1 1/2 hours.

  5. Serve ideally along side a selection of salsas, sauces and guacamole.

Where to get Mexican ingredients in the UK:

Depending on where you live, it can be tricky to get hold of corn masa and corn husks so you may need to order online. Here’s a couple places we like here in the UK:

Hosting the tamalada

The whole idea with a tamalada is that everyone pitches in. These are typically family affairs so don’t worry excessively about being the perfect host; instead focus on creating a scene of togetherness that gets everyone involved.

  • Create a space around a big table where everyone can gather.

  • Invite guests to bring their own tamale fillings, appetizers, side dishes, or drinks.

  • Give a quick demonstration of how a tamale is made

  • Let your guests loose in making tamales of their own

  • Once the tamales are made, enjoy the feast!

A tamalada is as much about eating together as it is cooking together. Have fun opening the parcels and tucking in. Make it a feast with a few Mexican side dishes and drinks to match.

Photo by Monica Shaw

What to drink at a tamale party

You’ll want to keep your wits about you while making the tamales, so start with an agua fresca (‘fresh water’) such as this cucumber agua fresca from Wahaca’s Thomasina Miers which can be made ahead.

For drinks, you’ve got options. For cocktails you can never go wrong with a great margarita. Or for something a bit different, try this Tanqueray Mexican Collins.

Picking a wine or beer pairing for a tamale is going to very much depend on the filling. Check out these posts for some inspiration

Monica Shaw developed her love of tamales while living in Austin, Texas. She writes about food and nature on her website Eat Sleep Wild while supporting other writers through her online portfolio site at Writer's Residence.

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