Tamale International Festival brings nostalgia, flavor and fun to all ages

Some things have changed at this year’s International Tamale Festival, but the most important thing has not changed: The tradition and nostalgia of being surrounded by tamales leads those who grew up doing them.

“I was doing them with my mom back then,” said Leonard Corral, 60, of Indio. “We’ve all done it.”

The traditional Mexican dish is labor intensive and time consuming to prepare, but all of that hard work makes eating tamales a special experience.

“It’s a recipe that is refined,” he said.

The last time Corral had tamales was on its birthday in 2019, just months before California instituted its first restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Indio Tamale International Festival was canceled in 2020. The festival typically attracts over 100,000 attendees and hundreds of vendors.

A sample of tamale prepared by El Pecado Crafted Mexican Food at Coachella is on display at the Indio International Tamale Festival on Saturday, December 4, 2021, in Indio, California.

This year, in its 29th year, the festival is a bit smaller and more extensive, according to Corral, who has been attending for years. The nearly seven-block festival stretched from Smur Street and Requa Avenue to Indio Blvd. and Fargo Street, with most of the event concentrated between Indio Blvd. and Civic Center Mall.

Vallarta sponsored the festival, which is free, but the food and experiences (including the carnival rides and the bounce house) are extra.

In addition to the traditional Mexican tamales, there were Salvadoran-style tamales and dessert tamales, including strawberry, pineapple, and pumpkin spice. Some queues lasted up to 45 minutes in the morning, but the tamales “were worth the wait,” according to festival-goers. Those who chose not to wait had the choice of shorter queues for pupusas, tacos and other Mexican fare, bacon hot dogs, churros, ice cream, smoothies, chicken fingers. and fries, or macaroni and cheese.

For nearly a decade, Corral’s wife was making a massive pot of pozole to go. They would set up camp at their friend’s business, JW’s Paintball Armory on Smur Street – where the festival takes place – and serve the dish to friends old and new.

Micah Esqueda, 5, of Indio wins an award during a dart throwing game at the Indio International Tamale Festival on Saturday, December 4, 2021, in Indio, Calif.

Since the business was shut down during the pandemic, Saturday was the first time the Corral family had not made pozole(a Mexican stew) and, instead, lined up their folding chairs in a shady spot facing a row of portable toilets along Towne Street.

Christopher Perez, who lives in Los Angeles County, has noticed the changes. He also said there appeared to be fewer beer options and, in general, less shade.

The temperature was around 82 degrees at noon in Indio.

Erica Jimenez, one of Perez’s relatives, was at the festival for the first time, so the setup didn’t bother her.

“Of course it’s going to be different,” she said. “The pandemic changes everything. “

This was the first year that her family didn’t make tamales themselves, so it was important for Jimenez to go to the festival.

Guests line up for tamales and more at the Indio International Tamale Festival on Saturday, December 4, 2021, in Indio, Calif.

“I love tamales,” she said. “I can’t wait to try them all.”

Tamales reminds her of her childhood and helps her stay connected to her family’s Mexican roots. She considers making these family recipes a “bonding” experience – and a “tradition”.

Events like the Tamale festival are going to become even more important, she said, as younger generations lose interest in learning how to cook their families’ recipes.

Her daughter, Alexis, who is 25, was most excited for the giant bouncy castle. Considered “the world’s largest bounce house”, the 32-foot-tallthe castle was even open to adults.

The brand “The Big Bounce America” ​​describes itself as a traveling inflatable theme park. Inside the festival castle, adults and children of all ages could tackle inflatable monkeys, climb an inflatable rock wall, crawl through an inflatable maze, or just blast their brains out. Next to the castle was, of course, a giant inflatable slide.

It’s one of the new additions to this year’s event with a 3,600 square foot ice rink and luchador fight. Music in English and Spanish and headliners La Sonora Dinamita, a Spanish vocal group made up of members from Colombia and Mexico, will perform on Sunday.

The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Play on Sunday at the festival:Meet La Sonora Dinamita, the headlining group of the 2021 Indio Tamale International Festival

Following:What to expect at the “reinvented” Indio International Tamale Festival

Journalist Eliana Perez contributed to this story.

Maria Sestito covers aging issues in the Coachella Valley. She is also a member of the Report for America Corps. Follow her on Twitter @RiaSestito, on Instagram @RiaSestito_Reporter or email her at [email protected]

Rosie Ayon of El Pecado Crafted Mexican Food at Coachella prepares a tamale for a customer at the Indio International Tamale Festival on Saturday, December 4, 2021, in Indio, California.

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