Food traditions that are far from ordinary.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a Tamale Party

Thomas J. Story

We do holiday food better in the West. That is the wholly unscientific, entirely biased, thoroughly questionable, but incredibly delicious conclusion of a recent random polling of a few Sunset staffers.

In one editor’s family, a pan-Asian potluck routinely features egg rolls, shumai, and two kinds of Filipino noodles (pancit and “the kind of spaghetti they serve at Jollibee”). Yet another cooks a truncated version of the Italian feast of the seven fishes (“clam pasta, grilled Scottish langoustines, whole branzino stuffed with thyme and Meyer lemons from our yard”) then makes “a big roast—typically with Korean vibes like gochujang and a bunch of banchan we buy in Koreatown.” One family’s weeklong cookie-baking marathon culminates with a “frosting day” where friends and neighbors vie for invitations to help decorate the groaning board of sweets.

The traditions are sometimes in line with the families’ heritage and sometimes not. One staffer’s feast is perhaps the most multicultural and multiculinary: “We have tamales from an instructor at my brother’s Brazilian jiujitsu studio, strawberry rugelach, and some kind of beef roast, but always cooked on the rotisserie outside.” Many families have an aunt or uncle’s variation on green beans. There is sometimes a ham. Everybody at some point makes a ton of Mexican food. It’s diverse, freewheeling, celebratory, indulgent, yet unpretentious, indoor-outdoor, and all very Sunset.

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