Known as a celebratory food in Mexico, tamales are particularly popular this time of year from the Feast of Guadalupe on December 12th through Three Kings’ Day on January 6th. In Atlanta, tamales can be found year-round, but certain restaurants, like Taqueria Del Sol and Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, stock up for the holiday season.
Taqueria Del Sol executive chef Eddie Hernandez, who took first place at the 2013 World Tamale Festival, grew up in Mexico making tamales with his family. “Everyone did it differently: The corn and cheese was my grandmother’s staple, my mom did the pork, and my cousin’s mother-in-law made the beans and chicken,” he explains. “It was always on special occasions.”
Hernandez carries on that tradition at Taqueria, where he serves tamales as specials throughout the year and makes a point to have them available for at least a week in December. “A tamale is like a sandwich or taco—you can put anything in it that you want,” Hernandez adds. As a child, he ate coconut-raisin tamales with hot chocolate and whipped cream. Now, he sometimes uses peaches or apples.
Being from Texas, Jonathan Fox of Fox Bros. has his own take on tamales: He uses his smoked meats in the filling. “Growing up in Texas, it was a standard Christmas Eve tradition,” he says. “I always wanted to make them but didn’t want to stray too far from my [barbecue] background. I wanted to honor the roots of the tamale.”
Through Christmas this year, Fox Bros. is selling fully cooked, vacuum-sealed tamales by the dozen. Fox is making two varieties: smoked chicken with green chile and cheddar cheese ($15) and chopped brisket with pico de gallo and cojita cheese ($18). Those interested can pre-order online and then pick up the tamales at the restaurant.
“In Texas you’d always see bulk orders selling around the holidays. It’s something that’s a quick and easy way to feed large numbers of guests when you’re busy making food on Christmas Day,” he says.
Chad Clevenger, executive chef at Alma Cocina, has a different perspective on why tamales are popular for the holidays. “It’s quite a process to make them, so it can really bring people together to have everyone sitting around the table,” he says.
Clevenger lived in New Mexico and has won awards for his pork pibil tamale, a regular on the Alma Cocina menu. He marinates the pork in achiote paste, citrus, garlic, and oregano, wraps it in banana leaves, and slow-roasts it overnight. Then he mixes in asadero cheese, wraps it in a bacon masa, and steams it. It’s served with green chile, crema, and pico de gallo. He also sells the pork pibil tamale, along with chicken and vegetarian tamale specials, from a cart in the atrium of the Alma Cocina building during “Tamale Tuesdays.” He starts selling at 11:30 a.m. and says the tamales usually sell out by 12:45 p.m.