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Tamales: A delicious Christmas tradition in the mid-valley

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Taqueria Alonzo tamales

Chicken tamal plate at Taqueria Alonzo. Tamales are especially popular around the holidays, and a staple around many Latino families' Christmas tables. 

Homemade tamales are a Christmas tradition for many Latino families, and the mid-Willamette Valley has several local businesses and individuals who supply the delicious treat around the holidays.

Each tamal (the singular in Spanish) is stuffed and wrapped with care, and recipes are often passed down from generation to generation as a way for people to connect with their families.

Preparation varies by region, but tamales are typically made of masa or dough, stuffed with filling and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The wrapping can be used as a plate or discarded prior to eating.

But how did tamales come to be a Christmas tradition? Well, in Mesoamerica, corn was once viewed as the precious substance and life, and it was believed that gods made humans from corn. Thus, wrapped tamales were part of ritual offerings.

They were one of the earliest portable foods, and were eaten by the Mayans, Aztecs, Olmecs, Toltecs and Incas. Besides being eaten at Christmastime, tamales are a vital part of many lifecycle events, such as baptisms, first communions and wedding anniversaries.

While many local tamales makers have stopped accepting orders for this Christmas, tamales are available year-round and taste just as delicious in spring, summer and fall. Here are three local spots to support around town:

Sabor

Rommy Streicher prepares frozen tamales with love for all to enjoy all year long, but they especially hit the spot around the holidays. Try the pork in red sauce, chicken in green sauce, rajas with cheese and two vegan options: vegetable and sweet pumpkin. Sabor tamales can often be found at the Holiday Farmers Market in Albany.

Taqueria Alonzo

Located at Two Rivers Market, 250 SW Broadalbin St. in Albany, and 922 NW Kings Blvd. in Corvallis, Taqueria Alonzo prepares chicken and pork tamales for the holidays. Stay warm with the signature Champurrado, a chocolate-based atole, a warm and thick Mexican beverage. If you stop by the store in person, you can enter Christmas giveaway, and the winner will be announced on Facebook on Dec. 23.

Rivas Dulce Vida

Located at The Barn at Hickory Station, 640 NW Hickory St. in Albany, this food trailer has authentic pupusas, with a variety of stuffing options, including vegan. The tamales are stuffed with chicken and wrapped in banana leaves, and in the winter you can sip on vegan hot chocolate. Panes rellenos — Salvadorean style smothered tortas — are also available.

Individuals often sell homemade tamales informally over Facebook. Post in your local Facebook group to see who is serving up stuffed goodness in their kitchen this holiday season, and maybe even after Christmas. For many families, tamales are eaten from the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Dec. 12 through Three Kings’ Day on Jan. 6.

Joanna Mann's fave five foodie stories of 2021

As I primarily write education stories, my food and drink features often SPICE things up a bit! (Get it?) All right, puns aside, here are my favorite five food pieces of the year. 

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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