but I make tamales

I spend most of my time meeting small business owners who have received funds through ADMIC, the local non-profit microfinance institution, using Kiva funds. I have this opportunity to enter people’s homes and hear them talk about the development of their businesses. Yesterday I met three women who make and sell tamales.

While the tamale recipe isn’t necessarily complex it is labor intensive. The spreading of the masa into the corn husks alone takes muscles that aren’t put into play by those of us who labor over a computer. As the cooks in my family have taught me, there is no technique that can replace “putting in the love” to everything you make.

Today I met three women who bring extra resources to their families by making tamales at home and selling them at the market or to their neighbors. These two women used their loans to
purchase additional pans to make the masa and increase their production. They buy the masa ready made, prepare the various meats and assemble the tamales and cook them. They then take orders from their neighbors or hit the streets selling them door to door. Each dozen tamales sells for $35pesos (a few months ago that would have been about $3.50 but this week is $2.65) Tamales are hard work hence there is a market for them.

The third woman I met was straight from “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. Senora Maria Ofelia makes tamales for the love of making tamales. She makes everything by hand. She takes 22 kilos of corn and grinds it

herself into the masa- “porque no sabe igual en maqina”/”because it doesn’t taste the same in a machine”. 22 kilos of corn makes 44 kilos of masa. She makes tamales de cabeza- “because that is what my clients request”. She prepares the meat herself to get the best for the tamales. She peels each chile de cascabel and takes out the seeds. She uses fresh rather than dried corn husks. She skips not a single step “porque no sabe igual”.


She makes tamales once a week. 55 dozen each time that she sells for $40pesos a dozen. She gets up early in the morning and only breaks from 5-7pm for church “because what do you have if you give up on God”? She then goes back to making tamales until 2am. She sleeps for a short while until 4am. She gets up again with the help of her husband because he sells them to his coworkers at Pemex. The orders were placed in advance and if she doesn’t deliver they won’t have lunch.

For this labor of love, Senora Ofelia will earn $2200 pesos or $157 before ingredients and material costs.

Her family tells her that tamales are too much work. Her blood pressure is too high. She should try making bread. Her response, “pero yo hago tamales”/”but I make tamales”.

Sra Ofelia’s ADMIC/Kiva loan was for $5000pesos was to purchase additional pots to steam the tamales. Now that one is paid she is hoping to take out another loan for a new larger refrigerator to store more ingredients and finished product. She wants to bring her sister on board to expand the business.

Call Bourdain….I have his next clip.


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