Flavor Teller Food Notes

The Flavor Teller Shines a spotlight on tamales.

By Maaike Hoekstra, owner and founder of Mazatlan’s original street food tour, Flavor Teller.

“Para todo mal tamal, para todo bien… también! Translation: if things go wrong, have a tamal and if things go well… also have one!”

It’s the perfect ‘energy bar’ with its spongy corn dough, savory filling, wrapped in corn husk or banana leaves. Luckily, tamales are available all year round. But if you ask which celebration is connected to tamales, most people think it is Christmas or New Year’s Eve. True fact – most Mexican households will only make tamales during the holiday season when there is an army of family members (mothers, daughters, aunts and nieces) who can pitch in with the preparation. But there is a one day a year where tamales are the mandatory meal, which is Dia de la Candelaria on February 2nd.

Dia de la Candelaria celebrates the presentation of baby Jesus in the temple, which is 40 days after Christmas. This day is linked to a previous celebration, which is Dia de Reyes (Three Kings Day) on January 6th. On Dia de Reyes Mexican children traditionally receive their gifts from the three kings, although nowadays many families give gifts on December 25th. Apart of the presents you share a ring-shaped bread called Rosca de Reyes. The person, who finds baby Jesus in their slice of bread, has to offer tamales on February 2nd. To keep up with this culinary tradition, here are some local favorite options.

sweet pineapple tamales

Tamal de Elote/Piña

These corn or pineapple tamales have a sweet flavor (yes sweet tamales are also a thing!) and they are typically served as a side dish with a Sinaloa-style breakfast. The other essentials are Machaca shredded beef and Rajas poblano peppers in sour cream sauce. Tamales de Elote are made with freshly ground corn kernels, contrary to savory tamales which are made with Masa corn dough.

The most traditional location to buy sweet corn tamales is Tamales La Cuchillita. It’s located on Av. Juan Carrasco 317, one block before the intersection with Aquiles Serdan street. The unmistakable green cabin has been the favorite tamale shop for generations of Mazatlecos. Opening hours: 12-3 p.m. arrive early because choices are limited: sweet corn, pineapple or poblano pepper. Don’t let its unassuming appearance fool you though: fantastic flavors hide inside!

Tamal de camaron

Shrimp capital of Latin America, it should come as no surprise that Mazatlan has great shrimp tamales. The original shrimp tamales come from Escuinapa, where unpeeled shrimp is added to the corn dough, hence its name tamales barbones or bearded tamales. However in Mazatlan, shrimp tamales are made with peeled shrimp.

The Masa corn dough used for savory tamales is the same as used for tortillas. Most tamales shops will specifically look for authentic corn dough, made from dry corn instead of instant corn flour.

typical pork tamales

What if you’re allergic to shrimp, or if you are not in the mood for sweet tamales? Don’t despair because you can also buy beef, chicken, pork and vegetable tamales or bright-red tamales colorados. And if you’re lucky, you might see street carts selling Oaxacan tamales steamed in banana leaves. Hungry already? Score your savory tamales at these spots:

  • MazTamales – Benito Juarez street 1308, Centro, or look for their booth at the Pino Suarez market. Phone number 985 3244. Opening hours: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Tamales Doña Lety – Justo Sierra 17, diagonally across from the baseball stadium’s ticket booths. Phone number 6683695. Opening hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

P.S. It’s one tamale, two tamales.