Time for Tamales in Placentia


Saraii Roa

Not only the treasured tamales, but a host of activities, games, and rides are also a part of the Orange County Tamale Festival.

Sharon Sun, Photojournalist

“‘Tis the season for tamales” is a saying that Placentia locals will be happy to hear next week. On Wednesday, December 15, the city of Placentia will welcome visitors to the 27th annual Tamale Festival held in Old Town Placentia, a downtown urban center hosted in Yorba Linda’s neighboring city. The event, originally planned for Thursday, December 9th, was rescheduled to the following week when Thursday was forecasted for a rainy day. Every year, the event brings in visitors eager to sample various dishes of tamales, a traditional mesoamerican dish loaded with flavor and a dash of the spice of heritage.

Tamales are steamed within a corn or banana leaf and are served with its wrapping. The filling inside is itself of corn dough and seasoned meat stuffed inside, cooked with lard. The outer leaf is tough and inedible, and should be unwrapped before eating the inside contents. 

Tamale or tamal? Interestingly, the correct singular word for the celebrated dish is “tamal.” “Tamale” is more the Anglicized version of the word. Maestra Nuñez (Staff), who teaches Spanish on campus, states that “in Spanish, the -es suffix is added to make plural words that do not end in a vowel. ‘Tamal’ is the correct singular form. So, ‘un tamal’ and ‘dos tamales.’”

The festival also offers a great opportunity to practice any conversational Spanish we learn here at YLHS. Most vendors and customers converse in Spanish – in my experience at the Tamale Festival in La Habra this past weekend, a vendor took and served my order of quesadillas solely through the Spanish I learned in school last year. 

The tamales evidently have the spotlight of the festival, but vendors are sure to keep their menus loaded with different options typically associated with Latin-American cuisine: champurrado, a thick, chocolate and cinnamon-based beverage not unlike hot chocolate; pupusas, a thick flatbread stuffed with various ingredients (and the national dish of El Salvador); quesadillas, grilled tortillas stuffed with cheese, chicken, or beef; and tacos, among even more options. 

Food, while the main attraction, is not the only dish served at the festival. Along the sidewalks are various stands selling merchandise – clothes, jewelry, and paintings, typically Latin-American themed. A ferris wheel also stands high at the back of the festival, charging $3 per person for a ride. And to entertain guests as they set down their plates full of tamales for a meal, mariachi bands also perform songs sung in Spanish on a center stage. 

The festival offers a great opportunity to taste authentic cultural cuisine and entertainment just 15 minutes away from Yorba Linda High in Old Town Placentia, and is sure to be a delicious experience.