Nayarit EATS: The Local Art of Making Authentic Mexican Tamales

We were thrilled when we finally got the opportunity to watch the Valdivia-Muñiz family make tamales at their home in La Colonia a few weeks ago. My husband David discovered “Tamalería La Autentica” last season, and quite honestly, they make the best tamales we’ve ever tasted.

We quickly learned that the family’s goal is to produce a product that people enjoy so they come back again and again – and that tamale-making is a serious business.

Mercedes, her husband Felipe and their daughter Nelly make tamales every Wednesday and Thursday, and then sell them in front of the church in Rincón de Guayabitos every weekend. They typically make 560 tamales each week and specialize in four different flavors: tamales de pollo (chicken) made with a flavorful and slightly spicy mole rojo (red mole sauce), tamales de carne de puerco (pork) with a different red sauce, tamales de rajas con queso with sliced poblano chiles and cheese, and tamales dulces de piña (sweet tamales made with pineapple). Each batch is prepared by hand by the entire family, and the recipes have been handed down by Mercedes’ mother.

They have built a regular clientele over the last 9-10 years. Some clients prefer to eat at their stand so they can smother their tamales with salsa and enjoy a cup of atole, while others take dozens of tamales home to share with friends and family. They also take special orders; in fact, just last year they made 700 tamales for a holiday party at a local school.

Mercedes began by heating a special type of manteca (pork lard) in a large pot over high heat. When it was hot and started to smoke, she added manteca vegetal (similar to vegetable shortening) to the pot.

Mercedes and her family lived in Oregon, USA from 1994-2007. During this time, she made tamales between jobs to supplement their income. This is when she realized that she could make a living cooking and no longer needed to work for someone else.

While the manteca was heating, Felipe sliced the poblano chiles for the chile and cheese tamales while Nelly washed, chopped and cooked the potatoes and carrots for the chicken tamales (shown below).

You may recognize Nelly, who works as a waitress at Los Compadres Restaurant & Bar in La Peñita.

The corn husks, called hojas de maiz, soaked in water for approximately 45 minutes so they were pliable enough to flatten, stuff and fold.

When we arrived, the waft of homemade consomé de pollo (chicken stock) filled the entire house. It was cooking out back in an enormous covered pot and was now being used to flavor the masa de maíz (corn flour dough).

In their large industrial mixer, Mercedes combined baking powder, baking soda, salt, fresh masa and dry masa. Little by little, she added the hot manteca mixture along with some of the homemade chicken consomé. She continued to slowly mix the dough until the texture was just right.

Several years ago when the family was working in the US, Felipe’s former boss decided to purchase a new mixer. When he learned that Felipe was interested in the old mixer, he agreed to sell it to him for just five dozen tamales. That’s how good their tamales are!

Felipe then transferred the masa mixture from the mixer to a large stainless bowl.

Each family member moved into their designated position around the table and the tamale making process began… just like a well oiled machine.

Mercedes effortlessly weighed the masa dough in her hands to ensure that each tamale was the same size. She then spread the dough onto the corn husks with her fingers and passed them to Nelly.

Nelly started to chuckle and said “Te agarre con las manos en la masa,” which is a common phrase that translates to “I found you with your hands in the masa.”

Nelly carefully filled each husk with the proper ingredients and folded them a certain way, depending on the variety they were making at the time.

Felipe then tied and trimmed each variety with a different tie detail so they can tell which variety is which. These finishing details are Mercedes’ tradition. It was the way her mother did it, and every tamale maker adds their own details.

Mercedes remembers her mother making tamales for special occasions, not every day. Her mother lived in a small town by the name of Cerro Pelon on a ranch outside of Compostela. There are about 30 homes there, and it continues to be the perfect place for the family to go relax and get away from everything.

Each variety takes 50 minutes to 1½ hours to make depending on the number of ingredients and labor intensity. All of the stuffing ingredients, including the shredded chicken and pork, two mole sauces, shredded cheese and cooked potatoes and carrots, are all prepared ahead of time to expedite the tamale making process.

They prepare the tamales a day in advance so they can chill overnight. The following day, they awake between 2:30-4am to steam the tamales. Nelly jokingly says “so they can get to the church on time,” and proceeds to tell a story from a few weeks ago when they were so excited to get to the church that they they forgot the pot of tamales. They had to turn their truck around and go all the way back home to get them.

While we did not witness the cooking process, the tamales are vertically stacked inside a large double boiler and steamed over low heat for exactly 1 hour 40 minutes.

Mercedes, Felipe and Nelly were such gracious hosts and we want to thank them for inviting us into their home to share how they make their delicious homemade tamales.

Tamalería La Autentica

Address: The Valdivia-Muñiz family sets up their table in front of the church in Rincón de Guayabitos. There are other vendors, so be sure to look for the “Tamalería La Autentica” sign. During high season and holidays, they set up another table just west of Oasis Disco, near the secondary entrance to town.

Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 6-10am or until they run out.
They work more often during the holidays.

Price: A mere $12 pesos each

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