For the vast majority of Latino families—and all those who love them—the holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays without the traditional making of Christmas tamales. For those who can’t wait until the 25th of December, there’s the Indio International Tamale Festival, held every first full weekend in December and recently named by the Food Network as one of the top ten all-American food festivals in the United States.

In 2014, more than 70 tamale makers from such diverse places as the U.S. (California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico), Guatemala, and Mexico are descending upon Oldtown Indio (between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard, filling in the streets of Miles, Towne, Smurr, and Requa) on Saturday, December 6 and Sunday, December 7. Having made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 as the world’s largest tamale festival, the annual affair—now in its 23rd year—expects more than 130,000 hungry attendees to pass through its gates over its two days this year.

Once on festival grounds, said attendees can visit said vendors to pick and choose from an incredibly wide variety of savory (green chile, cheese, beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetarian, vegan), sweet (strawberry, date, chocolate, banana), or gourmet (roasted garlic and artichoke heart, toasted coconut and pineapple) tamales. Not a fan of the gastronomic wonder made of a filling wrapped in special masa dough and steamed in a corn husk? No problem! Some 100 additional food vendors will be on hand with varied menus full of tempting offerings. And whatever you find yourself eating, you can quench your thirst at the Beer and Margarita Garden, or at the Wine Garden. The rest of the 300 booths on site will be staffed by community organizations dispersing information, or retailers selling their goods, such as clothing, shoes, and accessories.

And with five stages (three devoted to live entertainment and two dedicated to community groups giving presentations), a Kiddieland (bouncy houses, face painters, pets up for adoption), a carnival (rides, games, popcorn, and cotton candy), and even a car show, families and friends can build a whole day around meal time.

Tamales truly are one of my favorite foods, and so I make it a point each year to travel to Indio and partake in this homage to the real thing make by top pros. I may overeat a little—okay, a lot!—but my only regret is that this fantastic event doesn’t happen more than once a year!


Tamale Fest