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Why New Mexicans Love Tamales

The holidays in New Mexico aren't complete without tamales, which are practically the official state food between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The best tamales are made at home at a tamalada, where everyone gets together to assemble the warm bundles of traditional fare. 



Making tamales is a chance to get together with family and friends, especially Abuelita. Grandmothers pass their knowledge down to the next generation, and every family has one, whether it's a Grandma, a favorite aunt, or a family friend. She's the glue who holds it all together. 

Traditional Ingredients

Caleb Phillips/Flickr

Tamales are about traditions, and every family has their own. Must have ingredients include corn husks, masa, and some sort of filling. Before assembling the tamales, the cooks gather everything together in one place.

Chile is Mandatory


Tamales can be made with different fillings, but the standard is shredded pork with red chile. Chile is a must, whether it's used in the meat or vegetable stuffing, or in the sauce that goes on top once they're done. Simmering the meat the day before assembly fills the house with the aroma of good food to come. The best tamales are stuffed with love.

Don't Forget the Sauce

Making tamales is hard work. That's why it's important to make your margaritas before getting started on the tamalada assembly line. 

It's a Gathering

Little Zey/Flickr

Tamale making is labor intensive, so friends and family traditionally gather at the beginning of the holidays to make them as a group, and share the food around.

Put on your hair nets and aprons and roll up your sleeves. Before making tamales with family and friends factory-line style, it might pay to watch a little Lucy first.

Lucy's Famous Chocolate Scene

Lucy and Ethel figure out that the best way to keep any assembly line going is to eat as you go. 

The Work is Shared

Little Zey/Flickr

Everyone has a task: spreading the masa, dropping the filling on top, or rolling the filling up in the softened corn husk. Working together helps ensure there will be enough tamales to get through the holiday season.



Everyone gets hungry when making tamales. The unofficial little sister to the tamale is posole. Even a small bowl can rejuvenate a tired and hungry cook.

Steam in Batches

Tim Lauer/Flickr

Once the tamales are stuffed and rolled, they're steamed. Some tie the corn husks with strings, others simply stuff them in steamers and cook until done. Some might say the smell of steaming tamales is the smell of a New Mexico Christmas.



Eat. Eat on Thanksgiving, Christmas eve, Christmas morning, Christmas day, New Year's eve, New Year's day, and if you have any left, on Epiphany Sunday.


Katie Schumm/Flickr

Sometimes, it's good to save some masa for chocolate tamales. Everyone loves dessert.

There's Always Carry Out

Not everyone has time to cook tamales, or to have a tamalada. Often, tamales run out before holidays are done. That's why there are places that specialize in takeout.