Prepare to embark on a delectable journey steeped in tradition, flavor, and the warmth of shared experiences. Today we’re talking about the time-honored practice of hosting a Tamalada, a gathering that transforms the art of making Mexican tamales into a festive celebration of community and culinary craftsmanship.

women gathered around a festive table assembling tamales at a tamalada.

Making tamales is a labor of love. This quintessential Mexican dish demands patience and care. If you know, you know! But here’s the beautiful twist — when you turn tamal-making into a tamal-party, it becomes a joyful social affair, infusing the process with laughter, stories, and shared memories.

In this guide, I’ll take you through every step of hosting your own Tamalada, ensuring it’s not just about making tamales, but about creating an unforgettable experience. We’ll dive into the essentials of planning – from selecting the perfect equipment that honors both tradition and efficiency, to curating a menu of snacks and drinks that complement the main event. 

And let’s not forget the prep work! I’ll provide you with a comprehensive checklist to ensure you’re as ready as your masa and fillings when your guests walk through the door. ¡Vamos!

Latina woman showing a little boy how to spread masa on a corn husk at a tamalada.

What is a Tamalada?

At its core, a Tamalada is much more than just a cooking event. It’s a vibrant celebration, a cultural gathering that brings people together for the love of food, family, and tradition. 

The word ‘Tamalada’ literally translates to ‘tamal-making party’, a social event centered around the preparation of tamales. But to truly appreciate a Tamalada party, one must understand the layers of history and heart that it embodies.

young woman rolling a tamal at a tamalada party.

Historical Roots and Cultural Significance

Tamales have been a significant part of Mexican cuisine for centuries, with roots tracing back to the pre-Columbian era. They were the food of warriors and travelers, offering nourishment and comfort. Today, they continue to be a symbol of celebration and festivity, often prepared for special occasions and holidays.

A Tamalada party traditionally involves family and friends coming together, often led by the matriarchs of the family, passing down recipes and techniques that have been cherished and preserved across generations. 

It’s a communal effort where each person plays a role. From spreading the masa on the corn husks to filling and folding them, ensuring that the tamales are ready to be steamed to perfection, these events are an assembly line of love.

little boy tying the corn husk wrapper of a tamal.

The Social Fabric of Tamaladas

The beauty of a Tamalada lies in its ability to weave a social tapestry, binding people through shared effort and joy. It’s a chance for family and friends to catch up, share stories, and laugh together, all while their hands are busy making tamales. The atmosphere is usually filled with music, conversation, and the tantalizing aroma of cooking tamales.

For many Mexican-American families, Tamaladas are a cherished tradition, especially around holidays like Christmas. They are celebrations of heritage, an opportunity to reconnect with one’s roots and to share this rich cultural practice with the next generation.

Tamales: A Symbol of Togetherness

In a Tamalada, the tamales themselves become a symbol of unity and collaboration. Each tamal, though made by different hands, comes together in one pot – a delicious metaphor for the coming together of people. The variety of fillings and flavors also reflects the diversity within the community, celebrating individual tastes while contributing to a greater whole. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Equipment & Ingredients Needed

Ready to host your very own Tamalada? Fantastic! Before we dive into the fun part, let’s make sure you have everything you need to make this the event of the year. Don’t worry, the list isn’t long, and chances are you already have some of these items in your kitchen!

  • Large Steamer Pot: The star of the show! This is where your tamales will cook to perfection. If you’re hosting a larger group, make sure you have a big enough pot to accommodate all those delicious tamales. Not sure where to start? Head on over to my blog post on the Best Pots for Making Tamales.
  • Mixing Bowls: You’ll need a couple of large bowls for prep and serve the masa (dough) and for mixing the fillings.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Essential for getting your masa and fillings just right.
  • Tamal Wrappers: Corn husks are the traditional choice in my family, but you can also use banana leaves for a unique Oaxacan twist.
  • Masa: Masa is the foundation of your tamales. As the hostess I recommend you pre-make the masa, with ground masa or corn flour.
  • Spoons: To scoop and spread the masa onto the wrappers.
  • Filling Ingredients: Ask your guests to contribute a filling. Get creative here! Common fillings include pork, chicken, beef, lamb, cheese, and vegetables, but feel free to explore and experiment.
  • Tongs: For handling and serving your tamales once they’re steaming hot.
  • Gallon Size Resealable Bags: Send each guest home with a dozen tamales.

Remember, a Tamalada is all about community and sharing, so don’t hesitate to ask your guests to bring some of these items if you don’t have them all. It’s all part of the fun and teamwork that makes a Tamalada such a special event!

woman's hand pressing corn husks into cool water to soak before hosting a tamale-making party.

Tamalada Prep-Work Checklist

First, to make hosting less stressful, assign a few guests to bring filling options and/or an appetizer to share, and you take care of making the masa (dough), soaking the corn husks, and all the beverages.

A little prep work goes a long way in ensuring your Tamalada is both fun and productive. To help you stay organized and stress-free, I’ve compiled a handy checklist. Follow these steps, and you’ll be all set for a fantastic tamale-making fiesta!

  • Prep the Corn Husks: Rinse and soak corn husks in warm water about an hour before your guests show up. This ensures they’re clean, flexible, and ready for easy folding. Just toss them into your sink or a large container of hot water, and keep them submerged by placing a heavy bowl on top.
  • Prepare the Masa: This is an essential staple — you can’t make tamales without it! Make sure it’s at the right consistency – spreadable but not too runny.
  • Cook the Fillings: Whether it’s pork, chicken, beef, or a vegetarian option, cook your filling ahead of time and assign a couple of your guests to bring a filling too. Unwrapping a tamal is like unwrapping a Christmas present—always a delightful surprise!
  • Set Up Your Workstation(s): Clear a large table or counter space where everyone can work comfortably. Consider setting up different ‘stations’ for spreading masa, adding fillings, and folding the tamales.
  • Gather Your Tools: Have your steamer, mixing bowls, measuring cups, spoons, ladles, and any other tools you’ll need within easy reach.
  • Plan for Snacks and Refreshments: Tamales take time to assemble and cook, so have some snacks and drinks on hand for your guests. Remember: it’s a party!
  • Create a Festive Atmosphere: Music, decorations, or anything that adds to the festive spirit of your Tamalada can make the event even more special.
  • Know Your Recipe(s): Review your tamal-recipe to ensure you’re familiar with each step so you’re prepared to guide your guests through the process.
  • Communication is Key: Let your guests know what to expect, what they might need to bring, and the start time. I recommend starting before noon.
  • Relax and Have Fun: Remember, a Tamalada is as much about making memories as it is about making tamales. Enjoy the process and the company of your loved ones!
using a spoon to spread masa dough on a corn husk for a tamal.

Teach the Art of Tamal-Making

Demonstrate how to make the first tamal and then have your guests roll up their sleeves and take part in the filling and wrapping. Need a refresher? Watch this: How to Make Tamales YouTube video

tamalada buffet with drinks, cookies, and snacks next to a white flocked christmas tree decorated with homemade tamale-shaped ornaments.

What to Serve at a Tamalada

With these suggestions, your Tamalada is sure to be a feast not only for the stomach but for the soul as well:

Snacks & Appetizers

Keep it simple! Head to your local panaderia, grab a bunch of pan dulce, and suggest to your guests that they bring an appetizer.


Again, keep it easy! I love serving Café de Olla, Mexican Hot Chocolate, and Poinsettia Punch. Make sure you set it up for self-service so guests can help themselves while you’re playing hostess!


If you’re whipping up Christmas tamales, why not throw in a Christmas cookie exchange too? Invite everyone to bring cookies. One timeless classic that I always include is Biscochos.

Extra Touches:

  • Music Playlist: A festive music playlist with a mix of romantic, traditional, and contemporary Latin music will add to the ambiance.
  • Decorations: I love to show off all my artisan-made linens and pottery! Spruce up your cocina with tablecloths, fresh flowers, and other festive Mexican-inspired decorations. Looking for inspiration? Read this blog post with my favorite online shops.
  • Aprons: Making tamals can get messy, so it’s strongly advised to wear an apron. I enjoy organizing a contest for the most stylish apron and awarding a prize to the winner.
  • Crafts: If you have little ones who want to get in on the action, set up a crafting table for them to make mini tamal-shaped ornaments. There’s no sewing or hot glue involved, so you won’t need to keep too close a watch. Plus, they’ll get lots of practice for when they’re old enough to help in the kitchen!

Send Guests Home with Tamales

The average recipe makes dozens of tamales, so plan on sharing leftovers. I purchase large resealable plastic bags and send guests home with a dozen tamales. It’s the best party parting gift EVER!

And there you have it, queridos amigos – your comprehensive guide to hosting an unforgettable Tamalada! As we wrap it up like masa in a corn husk, remember that the true magic of a Tamalada lies not just in the delicious tamales you create but in the laughter shared, the stories exchanged, and the bonds strengthened. 

Whether you’re a seasoned tamal-maker or a first-timer, each tamal-party is an opportunity to celebrate culture, cuisine, and community. So, gather your loved ones, spread out the corn husks, and let the tamal-making fiesta begin! ¡Buen provecho y mucha alegría!

a big stack of rolled tamales on a white plate prior to steaming.

More Tamal-Inspiration

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Originally published: December 2015. These photos and more tips are published in Muy Bueno Fiestas.
Photography: Jenna Sparks