Photography by Nader Coobtee of Red Lantern Photography
Last Sunday, Mr. Dishy Goodness (Mr. DG) and I decided to check out the Indio International Tamale Festival. We'd never gone to the festival in the four years we've lived here, even though it is held just a few miles from where we live (like the Coachella Music Festival, another major event we've never attended despite being only a mile or two away!).
We parked at the Larson Justice Center and took a shuttle to the festival. The festival was held in Downtown Indio between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard. The first tamale stand we saw was Grandma Lupe's Tamales. There was a line of about 20 people waiting for tamales. Mr. DG had seen a news report the night before saying that Grandma Lupe's attracted the most customers, with a line stretching far down the block the day before. Since it seemed to be the most popular, we decided to give it a try.
I will say straight out that I am not a tamale expert, nor do I know what makes a good tamale, good. I only know that I prefer a tamale that is moist with ample filling (preferably pork). When we got in line for Grandma Lupe's, one of the family members informed us that there were no more pork tamales. :*( The only other savory tamale left was rajas (chile and cheese). The rest were sweet tamales, such as strawberry and cream cheese; orange marmalade; and pineapple. For some reason, the sweet tamales did not appeal to me nor to Mr. DG. So we tried the rajas.
Top: the line at Grandma Lupe's stand; middle left: Grandma Lupe rests; middle right: row of tamale steamers; bottom: bad news with a smile - no more pork!
For $3 each, the tamale wasn't exactly huge. But I liked the fact that Grandma Lupe makes tamales every year for this festival because it's a way of uniting her family. There is no Grandma Lupe restaurant or tamale factory. She is 78 years old and she oversees the production of the tamales and the making of the sauces.
The tamale was pretty moist and there was just enough cheese in the filling without being overwhelming However, there was a strange granularity to the cheese -- sort of like bits of uncooked rice -- that detracted from the experience. I don't know if this was a normal part of the cheese filling or if something truly was uncooked inside. (If anyone has an idea what this could have been, please leave a comment!) I wish we could have tried the pork tamales for a better assessment, as I was not bowled over by the rajas tamale.
We walked around the rest of the festival and enjoyed live music, colorful street performers and tamale hawkers in costume. You can see some of the characters in the photos below. As we weren't full from the rajas tamales, we decided to have fresh guacamole with chips from Holy Guaca-moly! When I saw the price for a paper dish of guac and chips, I wanted to say Holy Something Else, because it was $7! We sampled the dip first, and it was very fresh and natural tasting. Was it worth $7? I don't think so, but we enjoyed it anyway.
Indio International Tamale Festival website