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Indio Tamale Festival becomes holiday tradition

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Mitchell Pagán and his wife Collette Chan make their debut to the Indio Tamale Festival with about 3,000 pasteles or Caribbean-style tamales.
Palm Springs Desert Sun

With Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, there’s other holiday food to look forward to. 

The next course of our end-of-the-year food extravaganza is at this year’s Indio International Tamale Festival.

The festival began in 1992 as a half-day event, with about 15 tamale vendors and an estimated attendance of 2,500 people, according to the festival’s website. It’s now hosted over two days and features tamale-eating contests, a best-of competition, an opening parade and, of course, tamales. They’re made with all kinds of ingredients and sold individually or, in some cases, by the dozen at the scores of vendor booths onsite.

(Our own Desert Sun staffers, Kate Franco and Kristin Scharkey, were tamale judges at the fest in 2017; ask them anything.) 

The event is recognized globally, not just for its food but also for breaking records. 

It has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records twice: In 1999, chef John Sedler created the World’s Largest Tamale and in 2000, the event was named World’s Largest Tamale Festival, according the festival website.


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Tamales, traditionally eaten around Christmas, are usually made out of corn masa — different regions in Latin America make various types of masa — and have meat or chicken inside. They can be sweet (made with pineapples or strawberries) or savory, packed with salsa. They’re served during nochebuena, or Christmas Eve dinner.

Multiple generations of family members usually get together to make tamales in a process that unites old and new generations. 

The Coachella Valley’s annual celebration of this Mexican cuisine, which traces its roots back to Aztec times, takes place the first full weekend of December. This year’s event is set for Dec. 7-8 at 100 Civic Center Mall in downtown Indio. Admission and parking are free.

The festival will feature six stages with live entertainment, four beer and wine gardens, carnival rides, games, a farmers market, a food truck park and a kid’s zone with free crafts. Metalachi, the “world’s first and only” heavy metal Mariachi band, will perform on the Amigo Stage.

Tamale Festival parking is available at the Larson Justice Center at 46-200 Oasis St.

At least 125,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which has earned its place on numerous best-of lists, including Food Network’s Top 10 list of “All-American Food Festivals”in 2002.

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