DECEMBER'S DELECTABLE DELICACY: If you're not well-acquainted with someone who hosts his or her own tamale-making party each December, and you adore anything that comes wrapped in a corn husk, you can find yourself at loose ends. For sure, you have your go-to restaurants and stands at the local farmers market, the places where they know that you like a little extra hot sauce or calabacitas or green chile or cheddar. But branching out becomes easier come early December, the time of year when tamale-making kicks into high gear both in private kitchens and larger festival settings. For that's when both Indio and Oxnard host their masa-plus-good-ingredients bashes, and, for sure, the wide array of tamale tastes is impressive.
INDIO: Make for the Coachella Valley over the first weekend of December -- that's Saturday, Dec. 6 and Sunday, Dec. 7 -- for the Indio International Tamale Festival. This is where a Guinness record for World's Largest Tamale was set back in 1999 (think 40 feet long and a foot around) and this is where tamale specialists come to make the masa moist and the carne asada and other flavorful fillings spicy, savory, sweet. Is there a carnival to boot and other doings away from the food booths? For sure. Is this the place you see on the food channels, December after December? It's the very one.
OXNARD: Make for Oxnard's Plaza Park on Saturday, Dec. 6 for a bevy of rectangle-shaped packets bearing tamale goodness. (Real question: Is there a food that's more rectangular than the tamale? Okay, maybe chocolate bars, but on the dinner end of the question, the tamale wins.) There's an eating contest and rows of vendors vending delish things you'll need a plastic fork to dig into. Or will you? How you do a tamale is up to you, and since it fits so nicely in the palm, going forkless, we imagine, is a-ok. Gets all that shrimp-good, chicken-hot masa to the mouth so much quicker.