Unwrap tamales this holiday season at Tamalfest

Steam trays filled with tamales at Tamalfest 2021 in Santa Ana.
(Courtesy of Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events)

Annual tamaladas, or tamal-making parties, are plentiful this time of year. Many Latino families get together to make dozens and dozens of tamales, usually under the direction of a tia or abuela using an old family recipe. And everyone is expected to help.

If you are looking to enjoy some tamales without the intense labor, Downtown Santa Ana’s Tamalfest returns Dec. 17 from 3 to 10 p.m. on 4th Street, between Broadway and Ross Street.

The event is hosted by Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events, an organization founded by local State Farm agent Eddie Quillares Jr. and sponsored in part by the city of Santa Ana, Arts & Culture Office.

Quillares said his idea for Tamalfest came from the annual tamale festival held in the city of Placentia.

“I was always inspired by Placentia’s Tamalfest,” said Quillares. “I thought, wow, that is something I can bring back to my community, which is Downtown Santa Ana, that would help us prosper and really put Downtown Santa Ana on the map.”

A tamal gets topped with crema at Tamalfest 2021.
(Courtesy of Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events)

He spoke with Placentia’s organizers and got their blessing and in 2019 his State Farm agency sponsored the city’s first event, with assistance from the city of Santa Ana.

“We subsidized the booths and everything,” said Quillares. “All the tamal vendors had to do was show up, sell their tamales and that’s it.”

Quillares created Tamalfest in an effort to stimulate the Downtown Santa Ana economy and help preserve the culture of the city and some of those old family recipes.

“We have tamal vendors, and the people that are making the tamales, probably about 75% of them are over the age of 60,” said Quillares. “I only have three or four more years of this tamal festival where I can really keep it authentic in that sense, and then it’s going to get passed down.”

In 2019, Tamalfest sold over 12,000 tamales within the first 90 minutes. The event was paused in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but returned in 2021 and grew even larger.

“In 2021, 4,000 people showed up,” Quillares said.

In an effort to alleviate the long lines at last year’s event, Quillares said they are bringing in more tamal vendors this year.

A tray of tamales at Tamalfest 2021 in Santa Ana.
(Courtesy of Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events)

“Now we are having 12 tamal vendors, rather than the normal seven or eight,” said Quillares. “And normally we do 10 to 15,000 tamales. Now we are making 25,000.”

Quillares doesn’t bring any outside vendors to the event, choosing instead to highlight businesses from the city.

“Keeping it local is important to me,” he said.

Tamal vendors include Gonzales Northgate Market, Mil Jugos, Crave, Chapter One: the Modern Local, Tamales Dona Soco, Rivas Mexican Food, La Vegana Mexicana, El Indio Botanas y Cerveza, Mission Bar, Sabor Cito, Next Round Bar & Grill, Chevitas Juice & Bagels and Perla Mexican Cuisine.

The event will also feature a 2.5-pound monster tamal-eating contest hosted by Tamales Doña Soco and live entertainment from Mariachi Divas, Martha Reatiga, La Chilanga Banda, Banda La Plebada Sinaloense and Sonora Dinamita.

Live entertainment keeps things singing at Tamalfest 2021 in Santa Ana.
(Courtesy of Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events)

Downtown Santa Ana Feel Good Events also hosts an annual Pozolada event and is dedicated to promoting Mexican culture within the Santa Ana community through music, food and affirmations.

Quillares said tamales remind him of his own family, and he hopes the event can help festivalgoers feel a connection to the culture of the city.

“For one day I can share that feeling with people, of walking in and reminding you of your grandmother or reminding you of your mother, who may not be here and can no longer make tamales.”

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