Christmas Tamales

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For the average Latino, it’s just not Christmas without tamales. And thanks to one advocacy group’s fundraiser, many Birmingham-area holiday tables will feature the bite-sized corn-husk delights.As part of our a la bamba series, WBHM’s Steve Chiotakis listened in on the preparation with Isabel Rubio, the Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Eva (EH’vah) Tal and Hector Estrada, among many other volunteers working in the kitchen. We also hear from Guermo Castro, a local restauranteur and customers anxious to dig into this Latino Navidad tradition!

Isabel Rubio: “Today we’re making tamales. Tamales are a real big tradition in Latin America, much like Turkey is at Thanksgiving or Ham is at Christmas here in the states. So we decided, well, you know, maybe this is something we should try and do to bring more — introduce more of the Latino culture to Birmingham, through food. I mean, what better way to get to your heart than your stomach?”

Guermo Castro: “Obviously, all around Mexico you’ve got different kind of flavors — it’s all the same way. It’s a corn dough, basically, stuffed with whichever you want to do. You celebrate Christmas inviting your friends, your neighbors, your family, and while you’re praying and singing, your tamales are steaming in the kitchen.”

Eva Tal: “I’m making the pork with salsa. This is going to go into the tamal with the masa. First we have to cook the pork, because it takes a long time for the pork to cook. So we cook the pork and then we make the salsa and pull apart the pork and mix it all together.”

Castro: “You can feed the masses when you have your Christmas parties at home and you just have 100 or 200 tamales ready and steamed for everybody to get a bite.”

Rubio: “We approached this with some trepidation and didn’t want to be slammed at the last minute, so we said we’ll do this on a pre-order basis — but of course the pre-orders kept coming in way after the deadline, I took one just about an hour ago! It’s been incredibly successful and we are very pleased. We have orders for more than 1,100 tamales.”

Hector Estrada: “I’ll mix tomatoes and put a little water and something like that. Some salt too. Mix fast! It’s good!”

Rubio: “The finished product, the finished tamale is a little bundle wrapped in corn-husks. Little bundles of corn meal and meat and all sorts of yummy things and they look — they look very good! They’re about as big as a dollar bill that’s folded in half. Bite-size, really yummy. Now we’re going to put these in these special tamale pots that we have and steam them for a couple of hours and then they’ll be ready to be partitioned off and bundled up to fill the orders that we have.”

Rubio: “OK, this is probably our largest order…”

Customer: “Probably is… Just so it makes you feel better, I am buying for other people, I have four other orders…”

Rubio: “Good! Thank you, we love that!”

Customer: “People were so excited…”

Rubio: “OK, 90 bucks.”

Other customer: “Did you get any sleep last night?”

Rubio: “This was the night of the tamales… the annual night of the tamales… and Feliz Navidad! Gracias!”

Customer: “(mumbles) A tradition…it just became our tradition now!”