Jolly Tamale! Tamale shop keeps South Texas tradition alive

Story and photograph by Pamela Price for the Leon Springs Community News (December 2010)

Brittany Springer assembles pork tamales (Image copyright Pamela Price 2010)

As the restaurant’s very name suggests, the Mi Casa Tamales restaurant crew is known for their homemade tamales, especially those filled with well-seasoned, shredded pork. The shop’s tamales are ample and moist. Wrapped in their cornhusks and served warm, they are markedly different from the tiny, dry, shrink-wrapped tamales found at the grocery store.

“Our tamales are larger than our competitors, they are about 3 times the size and weigh about 3 lbs. per dozen,” said Mi Casa owner Shirley Keresztury. “Everything is fresh. All spices are freshly ground, there are no preservatives.”

In San Antonio during the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, fresh, handmade tamales are just as welcome served as a meal alongside creamy queso, rice and beans-all available from the freezer case located just inside the Mi Casa’s front door-as they are mixed in with traditional holiday foods like turkey and dressing on a dining room buffet table.

The shop’s tamales are so well respected locally that Mi Casa was one of a select few invited to participate in the inaugural ¡Tamales! at Pearl festival held earlier this month in central San Antonio.

According to Keresztury, Mi Casa’s tamales are made on-site in a cluster of quirky buildings off of IH-10–and in the spirit of the holiday season. “We love tamale season! It’s a family tradition. We are super busy this time of year.  All workers come together to pull off the high demand. It’s a fun, positive time of year for us. San Antonio loves tamales, and the tamale season represents family time, happy times, joy and laughter. “

The enthusiasm helps the staff make it through 18-hour days, as does an expansion of the team. “We hire extra staff, our wait staff turns into production staff, and we are a training facility for the Northside Nellie Reddix Center,” said Keresztury.

When not making tamales, Mi Casa employees are coordinating holiday parties and caterings, too. “We also offer a party in a box, a package which includes everything you need for a holiday party wrapped in a box-food, serving utensils, paper goods,” said Keresztury. “It can be picked up or delivered to you.”

As busy as the holiday season is in general, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year where the restaurant is busiest. “Working around the clock to meet the demand. For the last 2 years, we have sold out,” said Keresztury. “We now offer a wide variety of selections in our freezer.”

Among the 16 tamale varieties listed on offer at Mi Casa’s web site (www.tamalesmicasa.com), it’s the traditional pork tamale that is the most popular with customers. Also in demand are the sweet pork with jalapeno and chicken verde tamales.

Need a last minute gift for a foodie on your list? Note that tamales freeze beautifully, provided that the recipient can resist sampling and sharing them over the holidays. “Our tamale cans are great for gift giving,” said the enterprising Keresztury. “We can fit up to 6 dozen in one can and two dozen in a smaller can.”

That’s enough corn masa, spices and savory fillings to keep the spirit of the holiday season alive well into the new year.

Sidebar 1:

A Global Taste for Tamales

The ordinary tamale (or tamal) has ancient roots as the convenience food of Aztec and Maya civilizations. Variations of it are popular throughout the world today, thanks largely to the food’s popularity with Spanish conquistadors. Portable and loaded with protein and carbohydrates, the common Tex-Mex tamale is made of masa (usually a corn-based dough), filled with savory ingredients to suit the cook’s taste, and steamed in a cornhusk.

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