Pearl’s first-ever tamale fest

The first-ever Tamales at Pearl celebration and competition takes place Saturday, December 11, noon to 7 p.m. Tamales! Musica! Dancers! Cerveza! Anticuchos! Empanadas! All on parade. And, guys and girls, admission is free! OK, enough exclamation points. (Did we mention the $1,000 cash purse?)

The celebration promises to be exciting, in a family-friendly kinda way. Though it’s not the first tamale fest to take place in town (one, that Yours Truly has judged a couple of times, is now a Fiesta event), it’s good to see this local culinary icon getting its due. Yes, the holiday season also just happens to be tamale time in Alamo City, but we’ll take them whenever they’re being offered — especially if there’s some incentive for folks to get competitive and inventive.

And by folks, we mean Real Folks; no restaurants, chefs, food purveyors or other professionals need apply — though culinary students are allowed. The three categories are chicken, pork and “wild card” — under which umbrella we assume any and all sweet tamales can be entered, in addition to the ones with huitlacoche, smoked salmon and other exotic ingredients. For that matter, ordinary beans and cheese fall under this category, too.

Application forms had to be turned in by November 22, so we hope you read this first in the Current’s Eater food blog or picked up a flyer at the Pearl Market. But if you lack a Tia Teresa to guide you and need a tamale touch-up for next year’s contest (or simply because ‘tis the season), here are some class options.

Mind you, $60 buys a lot of tamales, but Central Market’s class December 7 at 6:30 p.m. will stand you in good stead for years to come. Teaching will be Jim Peyton, local cookbook author (New Cooking from Old Mexico, as one example) and restaurant consultant, and the hands-on class will cover a “foolproof” tamale dough, plus fillings of rajas and cheese, huitlacoche, mushroom, corn and brandy, white chocolate, blueberry, and pine nut.

And if you’re lucky there may still be space available at the Witte Museum’s class, called La Tamalada, being held at noon Saturday, December 11. The cost is $35 for non-members, and in addition to making tamales, you learn “the history, ingredients, and different cultural flavors of this San Antonio tradition.” Just as you would expect at a cultural institution.

One additional Tamalada opportunity is presented at Sandy Oaks Olive Ranch near Elmendorf at 11 a.m. Saturday, December 4. Formidable foodies Cathy Tarasovic and Cynthia Guido will demonstrate three recipes using olive oil in lieu of lard (we guess they must be forgiven, given that olive oil is the ranch’s business), and incorporating numerous inventive fillings (also including olives, natch). The cost is $45, which includes a lunch tasting and a dozen take-home tamales. Reservations may be made by calling (210) 621-0044.

Since interest in tamale culture is clearly growing, here’s a suggestion for some enterprising entrepreneur: put together a Rent-a-Tia operation. Frankly, as it takes some time to get the hang of properly spreading masa on corn husks, this would be the best way to learn. Or you can just go to the Pearl December 11 and indulge. Take your pick.

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