Years ago this tamelería decided to add rainbow tamales to their menu, and their reason behind it is uplifting.
María Tamales, in San Pedro, Tlaquepaque, now has a total of 18 tamal flavors, including their bright and sweet flavored, rainbow tamal. This recipe that was discussed and planned for an entire year before becoming a reality, has a special meaning to the people at María Tamales. María Tamales wanted to do something to celebrate the diversity of their community in Guadalajara especially during Pride, which eventually helped them think of the rainbow tamal. As member of the María Tamales team, Alberto Rebolledo, proudly says:
“Bienvenidos todos y todas a María Tamales. Esto es lo que somos. Vivímos en una sociedad bastante diversa.”
Check out the process of how these sweet rainbow tamales are made in the video above.
There is no secret that our planet is experiencing an ecological crisis. From flash flooding in Indonesia to a three-year drought that led to unprecedented and lethal bushfires in Australia, the first three weeks of 2020 have reminded us that as a species us humans have basically sucked at achieving a balance with other animal species and with the natural world in general. We are at the brink of either going into a deep well from which we might not come back, or hitting the PAUSE button and making some significant changes.
Here’s a success story about creative ways of using free and inexpensive materials to curb our consumption of single-use plastic products.
Our dependence on single-use plastic plates and containers is not only harmful to the environment, but frankly stupid.
Think about the amount of plastic you use in a single day. From the coffee lid that you throw away after finishing your latte to the plastic cutlery at the fast food court, plastic bags at the supermarket and plastic toothpicks, to water bottles and a long list of products that frankly make no sense… all of those contribute to increased levels of pollution. Just think about how silly it all is: that lid that you threw away or that Starbucks cup will exist way after your body has turned into ash or compost. Yes, it might sound dramatic, but it really is how illogical the use of plastic is.
So in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, corn husks have become the perfect alternative after Styrofoam was banned in the municipality.
The town of San Miguel de Allende, a traditional town and gringo-retiree central, has banned Styrofoam. Instead of complaining like many chilangos (Mexico City natives) did when plastic bags were banned, vendors in the picturesque San Miguel have resorted to a much more friendly and overall cooler alternative: corn husks.
This is a great idea not only because otherwise they get thrown away or turn into compost, but also because it is a resistant material and can even give some extra flavor to some traditional dishes. Such is the case of esquites, a scintillating concoction of corn, mayo, lemon and chili… food for the gods.
As reported by Mexico News Daily, San Miguel’s mayor, Luis Alberto Villareal, is proud of the initiative of banning harmful materials: “We’ve been working all year, but the truth is that the society of San Miguel is very participatory, it’s a committed society, it’s a progressive society, and [getting participation] hasn’t been too complicated.” Good for them!
Mexico City also banned single-use plastic bags.
From January 1 the user of single-use plastic bags was banned in Mexico City. Given that this is one of the world’s biggest megalopolis the move will certainly have a measurable impact. Many complained (of course they did!), but most embraced the initiative.
Of course, plastic bag producers spoke out against the law, as CE Noticias Financieras reports: “Plastic bag producers, distributors and traders marched and demonstrated in Mexico City on Wednesday against a series of bans to make the Mexican capital free of plastic objects that are only used once in the next months.”
Multinational supermarket chains have also responded to the initiative by offering their customers reusable bags. As NFINCE reports: “Walmart of Mexico, Latin America’s largest self-service chain, began with the free delivery of half a million reusable bags to its customers, as part of the one-time plastic and plastic bag disposal agreement, signed with the Government of Mexico City.”
Eco traditional practices are coming back
Even though hipster, gentrified zones of Mexico City have adopted the use of eco bags and all sorts of products that are often overpriced, Mexico City tradition has a long history of uses of bolsas de mercado, bags in which people store their groceries while shopping. This practice is mostly followed by the lower socioeconomic classes, but we are sure they will expand. Using a reusable bag is tradition and hopefully it will make a comeback. We also hope that bags that are usually less that $3 USD don’t end up being a $50 USD hipster commodity!
Natural, compostable plates and containers are used throughout the Global South and it is a long and rich tradition.
All throughout Asia people use sticks or toothpicks and fresh banana leaves to make bowls and plates in which dishes such as coconut rice or amok (Cambodian curried fish) is served. Oftentimes the practices of the Global North are seen as the panacea of progress but there is much to be learned from developing nations and from indigenous communities in places such as Australia, the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Food has always had a significant place in my family’s traditions. It was the center of every gathering and what connected us despite whatever differences we had. Whether it was a BBQ celebrating a birthday or trays of Mexican food at a quiñceanera, food was the common denominator. No event combined food, family, and tradition better than our tamaladas.
Truthfully, he was the orchestrator of most of our family meals. Someone who had already been cooking for other people all his life, my father put himself through culinary school while my sister and I were small. Working two to three jobs while going to school, he was a man fully committed to making a better life for us. Ever the doting Latino son, family was everything to my dad. As such, he also helped provide for his parents and younger siblings on top of caring for his young family.
His investment paid off and he was eventually able to become an executive chef. However, food wasn’t just my dad’s profession. It was his passion. Even when he retired, he was still the head chef of every holiday meal and family gathering. He even cooked at my wedding; baking and decorating my cake as well as preparing an asado to feed our guests. Food was his gift. His recipes were forged by his senses.
His dishes were the highlight of these life moments. They had the power to bring his family together and that was a responsibility he held in the highest regard.
Then he received his cancer diagnosis.
My dad had been sick for a while but the cause was a mystery. Still, even before doctors could pinpoint the cause for his waning health, my dad was certain it was cancer. My family didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. My dad was clearly just thinking negatively. A man as strong as my dad— a man whose personality was always larger than life— couldn’t be that sick. Doctors hadn’t found anything for a reason. We couldn’t allow it to be a possibility.
It didn’t seem real. Personally, I rotated through a phase of straight out denial and painful grief. There was no reconciling it in my mind. My dad handled it much better. Even knowing the survival rates, he wasn’t willing to give up without a fight. He wanted to live and, more than anything, he knew his family needed him.
Still, he knew he was on borrowed time. His diagnosis came right before the holidays so he was deep into his first round of chemotherapy by the time Thanksgiving arrived. My dad still made all of his signature dishes, though the occasion felt strained. There was a certain realization that we were trying desperately to ignore. These holiday meals were my dad’s domain and the thought of this holiday season possibly being his final one was overwhelming.
Halfway through December, my dad decided to have a tamalada.
Some of my aunts and cousins had wanted to learn his recipe for tamales but this could only be learned by making them alongside him. There was no recipe. The consistency of the masa was the guide. It was measured by the scorched fragrance of the ancho chilis. There were no written directions that could properly explain how to spread and roll the cornhusk hojas.
So, in the house owned by my family since my grandfather’s father first purchased it, we held our tamalada.
I knew what my dad was doing. Watching him instruct his sisters in mixing masa and setting my younger cousin to single-handedly prepare multitudes of pan de polvo, I understood his intent. He was passing the knowledge on to those who would be around to use it the following years.
Anger was added to my mixture of grief and denial. I didn’t want this. These secrets were his and, as long as they stayed his, he’d have to stay here to pass them on another day. Sharing them with others felt like he was acknowledging that he wouldn’t be around; that there was a time limit that he was tied to. I didn’t want to admit that.
I had long ago learned these techniques from him. Years of making tamales alongside my dad as we talked and laughed had taught me.
Still, I wish I had paid more attention to his fast folding fingers. I wish I had been more present on the day of the tamalada instead of trying to swallow the bitter combination of my feelings.
My dad died in August of 2018. It devastated my family. I’m honestly surprised to be as functional as I am so soon after his death but I’m still utterly wounded by the loss. My dad was my best friend. He was my teacher. He was the keeper of my secrets, our family history and the recipes that filled our bellies during times both tragic and triumphant.
It hurts, but I finally see that last tamalada for what it was. Yes, it was an attempt to pass those techniques down to their new keepers, but it was something even more significant. It was my father’s attempt to give us final, beautiful memories that would keep us warmly wrapped in his love throughout the coming years. When we wouldn’t have him any longer, we’d have his memories.
When I look back at that last tamalada— past my anger, grief and denial— what I see is truly priceless.
I see my dad, watching his family create something that would live beyond him. I see him sitting, arms crossed with a tired yet satisfied smile on his face. In my memory, he’s smiling at me; his grin silently telling me, “Mija, it’s going to be okay.”
This year, we will gather in that same house that my great-grandfather bought. In the house my father spent his first and final days in, we will cook the chilis and mix the masa. We’ll shimmer the pork and roll the hojas. My family and I will tell stories about my dad as the tamales cook. We’ll laugh and cry and drink too much café con leche in my dad’s honor.
It’s never going to be the same, but it’ll be okay. My dad taught me that, too.