facebook functionality image
a plate of food on a white plate
National Tamale and Taco Days on March Calendar

National Tamale and Taco Days on March Calendar

Talk about a culinary twofer. Mexico’s National Tamale Day is March 23, while National Taco Day is March 31. (National Taco Day in the U.S., where this Mexican staple is very popular, is celebrated on Oct. 4). Without question, tacos and tamales are two of the most delicious and beloved foods ever invented.

Tacos, the national dish of Mexico, date back to the Mexican silver mines of the 18th century, when the word taco referred to gunpowder that was rolled up in a piece of paper and inserted into rocks. This makeshift dynamite was used to excavate precious ore from mines and was called tacos de minero, or miner’s tacos. While no longer explosive (unless generously doused with habanero sauce), tacos today are the leading street food in Mexico. Tacos are thin, flat griddle-baked soft tortillas (flour or corn) topped with numerous fillings, folded and eaten by hand without any utensils.

An infinite variety of taco proteins and garnishes can be found throughout Mexico. It may appear relatively simple, but the taco — and more particularly, how the meat or other protein is prepared — can be quite complex. Each filling may be spiced, seasoned, cooked, dried and even sliced differently. (That's part of what makes them so delicious.) 

The three most common varieties of taco are: carne asada, carnitas, and al pastor.

Carne asada are grilled, marinated pieces of beef (typically skirt or flank steak) served inside a taco. Carnitas is shoulder of pork that's been seasoned, braised until tender with lard and herbs (oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, garlic), pulled apart, and then oven-roasted until slightly crisp. It's a long-time favorite filling for tacos.

Al pastor is crisp-thin shavings of vertical spit-roasted pork, marinated with pineapple, guajillo chiles and achiote, then served on tortillas. 

Tacos de pescado, or fish tacos, originated in Baja California. Typically, tortillas are filled with fried or grilled pieces of fish, vegetables such as shredded cabbage or lettuce, sliced radishes or cucumbers, plus avocado and chiles. Cilantro and pica de gallo are common garnishes, as is a healthy squeeze of lime. A dash or two of hot sauce is optional. No visit to Los Cabos is complete without savoring an authentic fish taco.

Tamales were popularized during the reign of the Aztec empire starting in the 14th century. This traditional, time-honored dish is a basic staple with nearly 400 different varieties made throughout Mexico.

The deceptively simple preparation of this dish —consisting of corn dough (masa) mixed with other ingredients such as shrimp, beef, pork, fish, iguana, cheese or beans, wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed—required the development of sophisticated tools and cookware. These included stone scrapers to remove the corn kernels; pichanchas or clay pots with perforations to rinse the nixtamal; metates to grind the grain; and to cook the dough, pots and lids that resisted heat. 

The grinding, kneading, wrapping and cooking techniques that early cultures perfected are basically the same ones used today. One bite of a tamale, and you can taste the succulent flavor of corn mingled with the delicious fillings.

Tamales not only taste good, they’re good for you. Tamales have healthy micronutrients, including vitamin A, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and iron. Corn also provides fiber. No wonder tamales are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Mexico. Cooked with sugar and raisins, jam or fruit inside, tamales are also popular as a dessert.

While tamales of all kinds are widely available in Los Cabos, from favored street vendors to fancy restaurants, if you like to cook, find an easy-to-make tamale recipe on the internet. Tamales might take some time to make, but the result of your efforts will be rewarded.