The First Annual NOLA Tamale Festival Debuts Saturday, Jan 6th.

by Helen Freund, Gambit.

From fried chicken to po-boys, gumbo and beignets, New Orleans has festivals dedicated to so many indigenous dishes it can be hard to keep track. Next week, the Delta-style tamale gets its own party with the launch of the New Orleans Tamale Festival.

The festival takes place at Poor Boys Bar (1328 St. Bernard Ave.) Jan. 6 and pays homage to the region’s tamale tradition.

Leading the charge is longtime downtown tamale hawker Holly Hawthorne, also known as Holly Tamale, and Angela Harbold of Medina’s Good Tamales. The duo have been planning this festival for the better part of a year, Hawthorne says, and they envision the inaugural event as a small, neighborhood-friendly party.

Hawthorne has been slinging her family’s generations-old tamale recipe from her bike since 2007. She grew up in Alexandria and learned the Zwolle tamale style.

“I thought, it’s really great that new Orleans has this great history of Delta-style tamales, but we didn’t have a festival that (celebrated) it,” Hawthorne says. “This year, we decided to do it small, see what happens and maybe expand next year.”

Hawthorne says she has gotten plenty of interest from restaurants wanting to particpate in the event. But for this year’s fete, the festival is capped at six vendors, including Holly Tamale, Medina’s Good Tamales and Mamita’s Hot Tamales. There also will be smaller, lesser-known street tamale vendors — an effort, Hawthorne says, to “(keep) with the nature of how tamales have been made and sold in New Orleans for the past 100 or more years,”

Hawthorne will offer red chili pork tamales and a vegan black bean and corn version. There also will be chicken tamales, cheese tamales and a tamale filled with chocolate and strawberries.

The event runs from noon to 6 p.m. at the St. Bernard Avenue bar, which has indoor and outdoor space, so children and families can attend. Included in the day’s festivities are a tamale-eating contest, the crowning of a New Orleans Tamale Queen and King and live music from Margie Perez, The Iguanas and Dat Band.

Entrance to the festival is free, and donations are accepted. For more information, visit the festival’s website here.

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