Tamale Empire

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The beloved tamale can be traced back in time to 7000 B.C. Aztec women traveled along with soldiers as military cooks and needed to prepare portable, yet sustainable, food. Tamales could easily be made in advance and reheated as needed, thus proving themselves to be a food for the ages.

After learning cooking techniques from Spanish conquistadors, Aztecs changed the way they made tamales from burying them in hot ashes, which made them darker and toastier, to steaming them in underground pits.

The tamale varied in size, shape, color, and filling depending on the region and resources that were readily available.

Today, the most common type of tamale is made from nixtamalized corn called masa, which is spread on corn husks or plantain leaves and is often filled with shredded, seasoned, and cooked meats like chicken, pork, or beef. The dish is then rolled and steamed before it is ready to be enjoyed.

While the process is simple enough to learn, tamale preparation is indeed time and labor intensive, which is perhaps the reason why they are associated with Christmas, holidays, and special occasions. At these events, family and friends unite and can work together as an assembly line to carry out each step of the tamale-making process. Tamale-making parties, referred to as tamaladas in Spanish, are social gatherings where friends can come together and bond over cooking together.

While making tamales holds lots of fond memories for some, for many people, the process just isn’t feasible and certainly isn’t something they can do on a regular basis.

For these reasons, many Valley residents choose to buy their freshly made tamales and save themselves the work.

Ask anybody from the RGV where to buy the best tamales and they will most likely answer “Delia’s.” The Valley original has remained a household name since its namesake, Delia Lubin, opened her first location in south McAllen in 1998. At the time, it was the only tamale restaurant of its kind.

Lubin began her business nearly 30 years ago with her sister. The two women would begin making tamales each morning, pack them into coolers, and then travel door-to-door and business-to-business to sell them. Popularity and demand for their products grew so much that Delia’s kitchen could no longer meet their needs. This helped launch their first restaurant, which has since expanded into six locations throughout McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Pharr, and San Juan.

Delia’s menu boasts 18 different types of tamales, from simple classics like chicken, beef, or pork, to more creative specialty recipes like sweet cream cheese or bean, cheese, and jalapeño. Customers can purchase their picks by the dozen or half dozen. Menudo is available every Saturday and Sunday.

This year, the famous tamale restaurant will be branching outside of the Valley for the first time to its newest location in northwest San Antonio.

Valley native and current San Antonio resident Lessly Garza said the new location will be a cure for nostalgia for RGV transplants like her.

“I’m very excited because I feel like a lot of people from the Valley are up here and we don’t have too many tamale places here,” Garza said. “Other people I know that aren’t from the Valley don’t know what Delia’s is, so they’ll get to see what the hype is about. I think it’s going to do very well.”

Hannah Welch, fellow Valley native and San Antonio resident, said the proximity will be convenient for her family.

“My mom is super excited because that’s sort of like our family tradition for Christmas Eve — we always eat tamales,” Welch said. “And since my parents moved up here, my mom goes down to the Valley every December just to get tamales for us. I think it’ll be super successful here.”

Sofi Treviño, originally from the Valley and now a student at the University of Texas San Antonio, agrees.

“My siblings and I grew up eating Delia’s,” she said. “It just tastes like home to me. To now be able to have it in my current city is going to be awesome!”

The newest location is scheduled to open near loop 1604 at 13527 Hausman Pass.

According to documents registered with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the building project will cost an estimated $1.1 million. The restaurant will be built on 5,000 square feet of space. Like other locations, it will have both dining and drive-thru service options to suit those who want the full restaurant experience and quick to-go service for customers in a hurry. Delia’s Tamales announced June 22 on Facebook that the new location will open in spring 2020.

While starting from humble beginnings, the family-owned restaurant is proving that the combination of family values, hard work, and good food is a recipe for success.

For more information on Delia’s Tamales, visit their official website at deliastamales.com or check out their social media pages on Facebook: @deliastamales, and Instagram: @deliastamales.