mexican holiday

Tamales Are an Experience

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Tamales are not just masa and meats wrapped in corn husks,  a whole experience is wrapped into tamales, they are full of flavor, family, friends, memories, traditions, and history!

The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history.  The women would make tamales for the hunters or when in battle would travel with them, the tamal is a filling meal and holds well for traveling.

Over the centuries tamales remain as one of the most traditional foods in Mexico, and also in Central & Southern America.  There are so many variety that are often distinguished by the region of Mexico, the technique for the masa (corn dough) making is fairly consistent, however the fillings have a huge variety.  One thing for sure, they are labor intense and time consuming to make, thus now they are so often only made during the holidays or special celebrations.

What I enjoy most of tamales, besides eating them, is the event itself of making the tamales, the tamalada, which is the assemblying of the tamales (soaking the corn husks, spreading the masa, filling them, wrapping them, and cooking).  I guess it’s similar to getting together and making Christmas cookies.  It’s really quite an event to make the tamales, most often entailing 2-3days of preparation for the shopping of ingredients, preparation of the mole, preparation of the masa, then the assembling, and finally the cooking.  If you are making tamales from scratch, and most likely making several dozens, it requires, and is much more fun when family and/or friends participate!  The holidays are a great time for a tamalada, growing up my mom and the tias (aunties) and cousins made everything from scratch.  And if you are planning on making tamales from scratch and it’s your first time, I highly recommend to have at least one experienced person assisting you so you to get perfect tamales, everything from the masa to the sauce to the cooking process has it’s tricks- trust me!  I’m lucky I have El Burrito Mercado to get the prepared masa and tamales fillings so all I have to do is assemble the tamales and cook em up!

Four years ago we held our first tamalada class and people look forward to it now, this weekend we had our 2016 tamalada in our newly expanded La Placita Room and it was a success! Everyone had a great time, my mother, our matriarch, shares some really fun stories and a plethora of information all about tamales while the class sipped on cocktails and ate dinner. Then, the last half of class everyone assembles their tamales, learns about tamales cooking techniques and then enjoy dessert & ponche navideno, each person walks away with a swag bag full of goodies.

Here are some pictures from our 2016 tamalada:


We are offering another tamalada in January, this event is open for kids too, 12yr and older, it’s a wonderful cultural experience, eat delicious authentic dinner, learn the basics about tamale making and then assemble your own to take home and freeze to later cook for your Superbowl party or for any event! Registration is now open and limited capacity, register soon, makes a great holiday gift!

So you see, tamales are not only masa and meats wrapped in the corn husk, also wrapped into each tamal is history, tradition, flavor, memories, and experiences.

Cheers, to your Tamalada!


Celebrate Dia de los Muertos, so they RIP

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What is Day of the Dead a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and acknowledged around the world. The holiday focuses on celebrating the life of those that have passed, to pray for them, and help support their spiritual journey. We celebrate their life and support their journey so they can rest in peace.

Traditionally, the departed children or babies are remembered on November 1, (Dia de los Inocentes), and November 2 focuses on the departed adults (aka All Souls Day). There is nothing somber or scary about the holiday. The dead come as spirits from another world to be with their living relatives and to visit in their homes. They do not come to scare or haunt as we believe Halloween spirits do.  Dia de los Muertos is a special and unique holiday, it’s a great opportunity to expose yourself or your children to learn about other cultures.  I’ve listed at the end of this blog several activities and events around the twin cities that you can participate or attend. This video does an amazing job of depicting the spirit of Dia de muertos  in a 3min video, watch

How to celebrate Dia de los Muertos? 
Building an ofrenda is the traditional and most common way to remember and honor a dear one that has passed.  Some also go the tombstone of the deceased and decorate the ofrenda and celebrate right at the cemetary, in Mexico this is common, family and friends gather and sing, eat, and remember the deceased in a joyous manner.

If you are going to build an ofrenda, an altar to entice the deceased to come visit, traditionally, there are several components to include in building the ‘ofrenda’ (the “offerings”) .  One of the most common elements are marigolds, or Flor del Muerto – Flower of the Dead. The flowers are thought to bring out the dead souls to feast on the offerings laid on the table or headstone.

The marigold came with Spanish traders to Africa and Europe. Wanting to disconnect it from the flower’s past, the breeding programs held in Africa and Europe gave this great flower the name of “African” and “French” marigold. After the flower was disconnected from its past reputation as the flower of death, it was introduced into the gardens of the world.

Today the flowers are prized by gardeners the world over for their long lived blooms that love the heat of summer. They are to be found in gardens across the world, a testament to the wonder of this wonderful flower of the dead.

The marigold most commonly used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations is the Targetes erecta or African Marigold, otherwise known as cempasúchil or flower of the dead. They will  remove the petals from the flower and spread them on the ground to make a path to the house and to the grave.  The pungent aroma of the marigold and the bright color of the yellow petals will guide the spirit to the home altar (ofrenda) and to the cemetery.  Marigolds are also fashioned into elaborate arches for display on altars and graves. In some villages, people leave a trail of marigolds from their front door to their loved one’s grave, so that the deceased may easily find their way back home again. The attractive scent of the marigold is said to draw them back to earth for the yearly Dia de los Muertos reunion.
Since prehispanic times, this plant has had medicinal purposes and it is thought to cure stomach ache, parasites, diarrhea, liver illnesses, vomiting, and toothache among other illnesses. The flowers are still used in many areas to cure these and other ailments. All of these illnesses are said to be cured by a tea made from the flowers, eating the flowers, or wearing the flowers.


Salt and water are also essential; they are set to quench the thirst of the souls, tired from their long trip. Water also purifies and cleanses.

Incense, Copal, is burned and thought to elevate  prayers to God. Pan de Muerto the breads are placed on shrines and altars as offerings for the deceased and are given to visitors arriving for the celebration. Pan de Muerto is shaped like a funeral mound…with a few extra bumpy protrusions. The ball and strips of dough decorating the top of the loaf represent the skull and limbs of the muerto peeking through the top of the mound. We like this summary best: The bones represent the disappeared one (difuntos or difuntas) and there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represents tears for the living. The bones are represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. It is sweet, fluffy, decorated in sugar, and most traditionally flavored with anise, cinnamon, and/or an orange zest flavor.  Pan de Muerto is available in our panaderia 


Papel picado is present as a symbol of wind/air, candles to light the way of the deceased.  And favorite items, foods, beverages, hobbies are also commonly displayed on the altar of the deceased.
The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos may be the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during the holiday: in candied sweets, as parade masks, as dolls. Calacas and calaveras are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining situations.

Mini Calaca
All of these items can be found at El Burrito Mercado, every year we build an ofrenda and keep it on display through mid November.  Our creative Resident Artist & Decorator, Denisea Elsola does an amazing job every year,  visit us and get inspired.   We hope you will consider building your own ofrenda and partake in this colorful celebration of life!



Milissa Silva-Diaz




Tis Tamalada Season, They Are Memory Making!

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Tis tamales making season… at least in recent centuries.  Though, historically,

Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Maya people, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200–250 BC).[2]Maya people called their corn tortillas and tamales both utah[utah].[3]Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC.[1]Aztec and Maya civilizations, as well as the Olmeca and Tolteca before them, used tamales as portable food, often to support their armies, but also for hunters and travelers. Tamale use in the Inca Empire had been reported long before the Spanish visited the New World.[1]The diversity of native languages in Mesoamerica led to a number of local words for the tamal, many of which remain in use. The Spanish singular of tamales is tamal. The English word “tamale” is an American back-formation of tamales.[4]

In Mexico tamales are on street corners and in majority of the mercados, commonly served for breakfast because it’s filing and warm! And in the US, especially in highly populated Latino demographic areas such as California, Texas, Illinois, one can find a variety of restaurants selling tamales.  Here in Minnesota, El Burrito Mercado was one of the first to sell tamales from a restaurant/market in St. Paul, MN, and because of it’s labor intense process, many restaurants won’t make them.  It’s a grand commitment and I imagine the Latino population isn’t quite extensive enough to support the variety and competition in MN to justify the commitment, at least not in the same way that other business’ flourish in other populated parts of the country.  None the less, tamales has made its way into Minnesotans tummies through El Burrito Mercado and other local successful Latino business’, such as La Loma Tamales whom sell from their restaurants and manufacture and distribute tamales into mainstream markets.


Tamales are a time consuming process, and though the most popular of tamales in the USA are Mexican tamales, they are not exclusive to Mexico.  In Venezuela & Colombia for example theirs are known as ‘hallacas’ also filled with meat varieties, the corn flour is distinct of the Mexican preparation and they are wrapped in plantain banana leaves.  Here, Adriana Lopez from PicaPica does an amazing task of breaking down the hallaca making recipe!  Venezolanos and their cuisine has a special place in my heart, one of my cousins married a gentleman from Venezuela and we all became very close, his name was Jose, (he died at a young age a few years ago, RIP). I was very young child when I met him, and growing up with Jose in my life, is a blessing!  He was one of my greatest influencers for my now deeply established appreciation and enjoyment of salsa music, Venezuelan food, and Latino culture as a whole!  Besides Puerto Rican food, Venezuelen food (especially arepas) is my other favorite latino cuisine.

Hallaca with Pica Pica, Adriana Lopez


There are many, many recipes on the internet for making tamales, and they are all very similar with slight variations in preferences, the most traditional is the pork in mole rojo (pork in a chile ancho red sauce).  I am not including a from scratch recipe in this blog, so for making tamales from scratch and if you don’t have your own, here are a couple recommendations to consider: Rick Bayless Tamales Recipe, Diane Kennedy 

Also, as a reference, Maseca has some great recipes on their website of a variety of Latino tamales! Maseca is one of El Burrito Mercado top selling items year round and especially during the holidays! It’s a corn flour used to make the ‘masa’, the corn dough for spreading onto the corn husk for Mexican tamales. It’s also commonly used to make tortillas and other delightful recipes. If you are new to the entire tortilla making or tamales making process, Maseca is a great an option, or you may also want to consider purchasing ‘masa preparada’ (prepared corn dough ready to use) from our deli, we source from a local tortilleria and you’ll appreciate the real ground and fresh corn flavor!

For those of you wanting to immerse into the full tamale preparation and tamalada experience, remember the above recommendations or find your favorite recipe, and please do keep in mind El Burrito Mercado as your source for all your ingredient needs, also contact us with questions, we are glad to help!


My primary focus is to emphasize the experience of making tamales, the memory of it all.  As a kid, like all kids, I looked forward to the holidays because of the gifts, the cookie baking, the holiday parties, and I cherished the time spent with family making and eating tamales.  My tamales memories are of being together with family, the noise and hustle bustle of everyone squeezing into the kitchen or wherever we could fit tables and chairs to begin the assembly… aka the TAMALADA!

“The tamalada is more than a cooking session—it is a family reunion, a party in itself, a chance for the kids to play and the adults to catch up on all the news about the aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. It’s the warm-up session for the family celebrations to come. ”–Articles/La-Tamalada-Mexican-women-share-holiday-tamale-making-tradition.html

So yes amigos, you will need several items even for the ‘easy’ tamalada gathering, by easy, I am referring to obtaining the ready ingredients at El Burrito Mercado so that all you need to do is get your friends and family together and assemble! Here is the list:

  • Family & Friends
  • Specialty holiday cocktails strongly encouraged
  • Snacks
  • Fun, Mexican & Latino background music
  • And nice size dining table and/or counter space!

And, you’ll also need (all available at El Burrito Mercado):

1. Prepared Masa (prepared masa ready to spread on the husks)

Prepared Masa

2. Hojas de Maiz (corn husks), these need to be soaked in hot water to make pliable and easy to spread the masa onto.

Soaked Corn Husks

3. Carne en Mole (meat & sauce, cheese, chiles, or other filling options, available at El Burrito Mercado’s exclusive Mexican deli)

Carne y Mole for Tamales

4. Tamalera Vaporera (the pot to steam cook your tamales)

Other items you may consider: spoons or knives to spread the masa, or this new convenient tool, Tamales Spreader which will be available for purchase at El Burrito Mercado this holiday season!

Tamales Spreader

Here is a video on how to use the spreader, I have yet to try this myself, I’ll keep you posted on our results.

In 2012 we offered our first Tamalada event, this is our third year offering tamalada events and they are consistent with our objection to offer our community and customers a true experiencia Mexicana! At the events, participants learn a lot about tamales from my mother, Maria Silva, while my mother does not have formal culinary education nor is she a ‘chef’, she is our chef and she is one of the most respected and best cooks in the Twin Cities when it comes to Mexican cuisine.  The event is offered in our Cafe and Bar and is fun, relaxed setting intended to offer a comfortable ambiance fit for a tamalada with friends and family!  Learn about traditional Mexican holiday foods, beverages, and traditions as well as make your own tamales while spending enjoyable time with friends & family making memories and delicious tamales to take home and cook for the holidays!

This year we are offering two TAMALADAS, November 30th & December 7th 4pm, the evening includes dinner, two traditional holiday cocktails, dessert, a fun lesson, tamales making, and a special gift & certificates.


Kids Tamalada Fun!
Kids Tamalada Fun!
Maria Silva, Owner, Mexican Cuisine Expert
Maria Silva describing the ingredients for making tamales.

El Burrito Merc LogoIMG_4821IMG_0105

We are also offering new this year a Kids Tamalada on Saturday, Nov. 29th 9:30am, breakfast & treats included, interactive tamales lesson and then tamales making! Registration information:

One Stop Dia de los Muertos Shop

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Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos a unique holiday celebrated in Mexico that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.  In Mexico, especially Oaxaca, this holiday is celebrated still in the most traditional manner.  There is an abundance of heritage and history in Oaxaca and Dia de los Muertos is the most celebrated there in its traditional manner, here is information about the celebrations in Oaxaca The tradition is also celebrated in other parts of Mexico, and over the past several years also into USA.  However, in the states, Dia de los Muertos has become very trendy and appreciated more for its unique and artistic nature of the decor and oddly, attractive eeriness.  Many people still do not understand the meaning of it and because of the skulls assume it something with an evil or halloween correlation, and as a matter of fact, it is a beautiful way to celebrate those that have passed, and it precedes the Catholic religious dates of All Souls Day & All Saints Day.

The holiday is also celebrated in other Latino countries, in Brazil Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones.

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday I’m glad to see has earned it’s way to this north of the states, it has gained popularity and is a cultural holiday many are curious to learn more about.  Dia de los Muertos holiday is transferred into a culmination of artistic creativity and celebrations that are now expressed in so many unique and inventive ways, both in mainstream markets and chain stores like Target to individual interpretation art.

In summary, the holiday is known for its unique traditions with traces to the indigenous, the basic celebration entails the following:

  • Family members often clean and decorate the graves of loved ones on Dia de los Muertos.
  • In addition to celebrations, the dead are honored on Dia de los Muertos with ofrendas—small, personal altars honoring one person.
  • Ofrendas, like an ‘altar, often have flowers, candles, food, drinks, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered, and this is where one will also add calaveras, catrinas, calacas papel picado, and other dia de los muertos arts.

At El Burrito Mercado every year we feature the many Mexican artists beautiful dia de los muertos pieces throughout our store, we hand select all the items in our visits to Mexico. We have everything you need to celebrated dia de los muertos, we are your one stop shop Dia de los Muertos!

We also build an ofrenda, this year we chose to remember Robin Williams

We added pan de muerto, sugar skulls, candles, marigolds, and other decorative items.
Robin Williams Ofrenda

Decorative Catrinas in all sizes

Artistic Skulls
Artistic skulls in various sizes & colors.

Fun, large size catrina
Fun, large size catrina
These are the most important and traditional components for building your own ofrenda:


What & why the Sugar Skulls?
Sugar skulls are exactly that- skull-shaped sugar. Traditional sugar skulls are made from a granulated white sugar mixture that is pressed into special skull molds. The sugar mixture is allowed to dry and then the sugar skull is decorated with icing, feathers, colored foil and more. While the ingredients of sugar skulls are edible (with the exception of the non-edible decorations you may add) the skulls are generally used for decorative purposes. However some small sugar skulls that are made with basic icing are intended to be consumed. On November 1 (All Souls Day) small sugar skulls are placed for children that have passed, and replaced with larger, more decorative skulls on November 2 to represent adults.  At El Burrito Mercado we sell premade & decorated sugar skulls.  Here is a recipe for making your own sugar skulls. 

Pre-made Sugar Skulls

Cute, mini sugar skulls
Cute, mini sugar skulls

This sweet bread is eaten by the families of the deceased during Dia de los Muertos, and placed on the altar. The Pan de Muerto is a made into a round shape and and extra dough is twisted and designed into decorations resembling bones which is place on top of the bread in a criss cross shape. The circular shape symbolizes the circle of life, and the bones decoration represents the dead (bones of the dead). The bread is baked, glazed and decorated with colored sugar or sesame. Make your own Pan de Muerto recipe here or buy it already prepared at El Burrito Mercado, or you can call and order your own customized pan de muerto in the shape of a person and we can write the name of the deceased on it for your ofrenda.

Pan de MuertoPan-de-muertos-01

Pan de Muerto, bakery
Pan de Muerto, bakery

Cempasúchil, The Marigold and Day of the Dead

The ancient celebrations honored Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the dead and death. The Aztecs believed that the smell could wake the souls of the dead to bring them back for the festival. Read more:

As well as water (to quench their thirst after the long journey), candles (to light their way), and papel picado (to represent wind).


To celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Minnesota, consider attending our dinner on November 2 and also these other activities throughout the Twin Cities:

Day of the Dead Midtown Global Market,

Day of the Dead MN History Museum

El Burrito Mercado Dia de los Muertos dinner