The holiday season brings warm, inviting feelings to many. Families travel and gather to enjoy each other’s company and create memories that will last a lifetime. In the neighborhoods of North Denver, families renew their holiday traditions through their tamales.
“It is very traditional to have tamales around Christmas. Generally, it’s me, my mom, and my sister and we make them from scratch. It’s very festive,” said Anne Trujillo, who is a Denver resident and anchor for Denver 7 news.
Being from Santa Fe, New Mexico, generations of Anne Trujillo’s family have made tamales around the holidays. “It is very much a family tradition. My mom’s generation made tamales, my grandparent’s generation, everybody. Around the holidays, tamales are seen as gifts. “They are so precious when you make them from scratch,” Trujillo said.
Tamales are a classic Mesoamerican dish made up of masa, filling, and the corn husk wrapper. Masa is a starch-based dough that surrounds the filling and is typically made from ground corn. The filling usually contains pork or chicken that has been cooked or marinated in salsa. Tamales may also have veggies, beans, or cheese. Corn husks delicately enclose and keep the tamale together.
“It’s a very special, warm, family activity,” Trujillo said. “When it’s a recipe that’s been handed down, it really means something. It just warms your heart, and makes Christmas feel special because not everybody has those kinds of traditions.”
Pochitos Tortilla Factory, a family-owned tortilla and tamale heaven in Sunnyside, also has tamales for the holidays. Pochitos is a small building. It may look unsuspecting on the outside but on the inside the magic happens. As soon as you walk through the door you are hit by the smell of freshly made tamales and tortillas. You immediately notice their display of tortillas and a refrigerator full of salsas and tamales.
Pochitos opened in August 1997 and owner Levi Luna says that he was inspired, to create and share his tamales, by his grandfather.
“When I was growing up, I would go on the route with him,” Luna said. He said that while he was on the route with his grandfather, he would see freshly made tortillas coming out of the oven. As he grew in the business, he became more interested in the production or tortillas and especially, tamales.
The tamales that are made at Pochitos receive a lot of praise in the community. One testimonial says, “Mexican restaurants in Denver should learn what a real tamale tastes like. These are almost as good as my Mom’s homemade tamales. They are delicious, as is the green Chile and tortillas. Can’t wait to go back for more but we bought enough to last a while.”
Luna is enormously proud of his tamales and when asked if there were any secrets to making a delicious tamale, he shared this advice. “Don’t rush,” Luna said when describing the nearly 20-hour process it takes to make Pochitos’ tamales.
He explained that they start by cooking the meat filling. During the process, flavorful juices from the meat infuse the masa with flavor. The tamales making process is so time consuming because part of the process is treating each tamale with care and attention to detail.
Tamales are a staple in North Denver. They can bring people together over a meal. Some say that the most important ingredient in quality tamales is love. Luna said that tamales do have an impact on the culture in North Denver.
“I think that not only during the holidays, I just think in general. The Mexican culture is food. So, dinner time, when everybody has dinner together, everybody sits at the table and everybody, you know, finds pleasure in eating and spending time together.”
Tamales are more than food; they are gifts and something people can bond over. There is nothing more important during the holidays than spending time with the people dearest to you. Anne Trujillo, Levi Luna and Pochitos Tortilla Factory are building and sharing their culture.