Thomas J. Story

A tamalada (Spanish for tamale party) is a popular holiday tradition in many Mexican households. Here’s how to host one yourself

Leticia Landa and Caleb Zigas  – December 11, 2019

Tamaladas are gatherings at which tamales are made and eaten. Tamales are labor-intensive, and the work of wrapping each one goes so much faster with additional hands that families and friends typically gather together and make them in large batches.

Tamales are created by steaming corn masa inside of leaves (either corn husks or banana leaves). The way the masa is seasoned, whether it’s precooked or left raw, and the fillings and flavors that are added vary widely by region. Variations are found throughout all of Latin America.

Alicia Villanueva, owner of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas in Hayward, CA, makes tamales that are typical of central and northern Mexico and the type most often made at San Francisco’s La Cocina (an incubator for small food businesses owned by women of color). Raw masa gets flattened onto corn husks; cooked fillings are added, then bundled into a long log shape (similar to what the corn would have looked like were it still inside the husk).

You can check out Villanueva’s Bean Tamale recipe here.

Here’s how to throw a tamalada, including previous day and day-of instructions. 

La Cocina

To Prepare for the Tamalada

  • Assemble all of the necessary ingredients and equipment.

The Day Before the Tamalada

  • Cook the fillings that you’ll be using.
  • Soak the beans (to eat as a side dish with the tamales).

The Morning of the Tamalada

  • Place all corn husks in a large bucket filled with water to soak.
  • Mix the masa.
  • Cook the beans; they will slowly simmer while the tamales are being made.

When Your Guests Arrive

  • Clear off your largest table and set out the masa, fillings, and corn husks.
  • Demonstrate how to flatten the masa, how much filling to add, how to roll the tamales, and where to put each one when it’s ready to steam.

While Your Guests Wrap

  • Set up a pot with the steamer basket (or pasta insert) and bring water in the base of the pot to a boil. When there are enough tamales to fill the steamer, steam them to cook them through and set them aside, sorted by flavor, to cool.

When the Tamales Have All Been Wrapped

  • Add final seasonings to the beans and sit down to eat.
  • Once all the tamales are steamed and cooled, they can be placed into freezer bags and kept frozen (steam again to warm them).

Other Tamale Filling Ideas

La Cocina

Remember, You Can Also Make Tamales Using the Raw Masa Method

  • You can also make tamales using the raw masa method, swapping out corn husks for banana leaves. To do this, cut the banana leaves into placemat-size rectangles. In the center, press a square of masa, then top with the filling of your choice. Wrap the tamale as you would a gift, bringing the left side over the top, then the right side; then fold down the excess on the top and bottom and turn the banana leaf over to steam it with the folded-side down.

Reprinted from We Are La Cocina by Leticia Landa and Caleb Zigas with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019.