Over 40% of the population of Stockton – and San Joaquin County – is Latino. Whether it’s California history, migratory patterns, or the state sharing its southern border with Mexico, the influence of Mexican culture around us is undeniable.
For many Mexicans, December 12 marks the start of what is colloquially known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Holiday Marathon.
In Mexican Catholic tradition, December 12 is celebrated as Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe). A week later, Christmas arrives, followed by New Years Eve, shortly after concluding the January 6 celebratory marathon with Día de Reyes (Feast of the Three Kings). Hence the seasonal nickname of Guadalupe-Reyes, although some families celebrate until February 2 for Día de la Candelaria (The Presentation of Jesus Christ).
Although religious in origin – and some continue to celebrate so – for many, this time of year also represents an opportunity to reunite with extended family members and enjoy an important and very traditional Mexican delicacy. : tamales.
Why the relationship to religion? And why is eating tamales together with others a tradition?
Historical records of the Spanish Catholic brethren in Mexico have documented that the Mexican people may have introduced tamales (ta-ma-les with with all short vowel sounds, no ta-ma-lees) to the rest of Latin America at the time of the Spanish colony, reported Milenio News.
Although it was a common meal for them, the Mexicas also cooked tamales as a community for their religious festivities, ofrendas (offers) and social events.
When the Spanish colonies ended polytheistic religions and converted Mexico to a predominantly Catholic country, the tamales became part of what is now the series of celebrations across the Guadalupe-Reyes and Candelaria season.
A modern Mexican tamal basically contains four main ingredients:
- masa (nixtamalized corn dough, like tortillas)
- some type of fat to bind the masa whole (usually lard)
- banana leaves or corn husks that bind the tamal
- stuffing (can be vegetables, meat, cheese or mashed beans; usually as a stew but not a soup)
Once the masa is prepared, it is spread over the envelope or banana leaf. The stuffing is hollowed out and placed on the masa and when the husk or banana leaf is folded, the masa embraces the stuffing and encloses it. The tamales are then placed in a steamer – usually a massive pot with a raised sheet metal keeping the tamales out of the water – and left there to sit and cook.
It might sound easy, but it’s an art some of the most talented, precise, and magical hands can cook.
Each region – sometimes even each cuisine – prepares tamales differently; the recipes are endless. Tamales can be cooked, found, purchased, eaten anytime of the year for any meal of the day across Mexico. Although they share ingredients with tacos and other dishes, they are not the same and taste different. Believe me, I am Mexican.
Whether you are Mexican or not, celebrate religiously or not, anyone can enjoy tamales. Interested? Does that sound appetizing to you? Here is a list of places in Stockton that sell tamales.
Do you know of others that we missed? Let us know at [email protected]
Maria’s meat and taqueria market
- 8909 Thornton Road
- (209) 956-2840
- 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
- 1240 El Dorado Street
- (209) 465-7552
- 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Carnicería La Sierra
- 253 E. avenue des Alpes.
- (209) 932-0661
- 9 am-6pm Monday to Sunday
- 2860 N. California St.
- (209) 464-2240
- 8 am-8pm Monday to Sunday
- 2606 East Main Street
- (209) 460-0163
- 7 am-8pm Monday to Sunday
- 1205 W. March Lane
- (209) 476-8802
- 10 am-8pm Tuesday-Friday, 9 am-8pm Saturday-Sunday, closed Mondays
Record-breaking journalist Laura Diaz covers social justice and societal issues. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @laurasdiaz_. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.