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Tamale festival shucks off last year’s challenges

Last year’s first try at a height-of-summer tamale festival in Washougal was a victim of its own success. Overwhelmed by lots of eager tamale fans, but undersupplied with actual tamales, long lines of hungry people took over the event. Organizers expected a turnout of about 400; the reality was well over 1,500.

Unsatisfied hunger won’t be a problem at this Saturday’s second Southwest Washington Tamale Festival, organizer Hector Hinojosa vowed. Given the surprise popularity of last year’s outing, he said, delighted organizers have prepared a bigger, busier and better-stocked celebration.

“This year, we will have many more food vendors, so lines will be shorter and there will be plenty of tamales for everyone,” Hinojosa said. Kids will enjoy activities; grown-ups will enjoy the beer garden.

What’s a tamale? It’s a delicious little bundle of corn or dough (plus whatever else you add), steamed inside a corn husk that you unwrap like a present to get at the good stuff inside. Tamales are as ancient as civilization itself in Mexico and Guatemala, where local “people of the corn” considered them both sacred and extremely practical — handily transportable, highly nutritious and adaptable with ingredients such as meat, fish, beans, eggs or fruit. Think of the tamale as the wrap that came before all other wraps.

As before, this year’s event will feature a tamale cooking contest open to both restaurant and homestyle cooks in meat, vegetarian and sweet/dessert categories. New this year is a tamale eating contest, and last we checked, there was still lots of space for power gobblers to get in on that corny action. Check the website,, for contest information and registration. That contest is set to begin at 3:35 p.m. sharp.

Tamales are the touchpoint, but the festival really means to celebrate Latino culture and raise money for scholarships and youth programs via its chief sponsor, the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens.

This year’s entertainment lineup is well stocked, too, with the One of a Kind Drumline bringing interactive thunder to the plaza after Washougal Mayor Molly Coston’s welcome at 1 p.m.; Middle Eastern dance groups adding different spices from 1:40 to 2:45 p.m.; Son de Cuba Quartette at 3 and 3:50 p.m.; the Vancouver Ballet Folklorico at 4:30 p.m., followed by more dance groups offering styles from around the globe; Gerardo Calderon and his Grupo Condor playing traditional Mexican and South American folk music at 6:20 p.m.; and, finally, a DJ at 7:30 p.m.

If You Go

What: Southwest Washington Tamale Festival.

When: 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Reflection Plaza, 1703 Main St., Washougal.

Admission: Free.

On the web:


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