By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ
A new king was crowned in the Fifth Annual San Benito News “Best Tamales” contest on Friday.
Many people crowded near a window to observe the five judges as they tasted and graded different types of tamales to determine which would reign over all the rest.
“This was my first contest, and I thought it was fun,” said San Benito Funeral Home Managing Partner and contest judge Christ Tapia after the event. “I was a little surprised with the different tamales. They were very good. I just hope that I’m invited again to do this next year. I thought that there was one that was different from all the others that I chose. I hope that that’s the one that wins. It was different from all the other ones. I think it was more of a South American tamal than it was a Mexican tamal”
San Benito CISD Board President Yliana González also expressed enthusiasm in judging the contest.
“It was a good opportunity for the community to get involved and share their expertise when it comes to tamales and sharing,” González said. “That’s what this whole season is about, sharing. There was one that particularly caught my attention. It was wrapped with cabbage. I’ve never seen that done before. I’ve seen a banana peel one, but never a cabbage. I was very impressed with that one. It was very spicy and very unique.”
There were various types of tamales submitted into the contest including the traditional pork, bean and chicken, while other more unique types of tamales were submitted.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Place 4 San Benito City Commissioner Joe D. Gonzalez, who also served as a judge. “This was really exciting. These are the activities that bring people together, and that’s what Christmas is all about. We really enjoyed it. The judges had a lot of fun in there. A lot of them were very traditional. We did have some exotic ones that were very different but really nice, things that we hadn’t tasted ourselves. It was really exciting for the judges to see. Overall they did a great job. It was a pretty close competition here.”
“There was a good variety of tamales for the contest,” said judge and radio personality Jay Cantu of Clear Channel Radio. “(My favorite) was different. A little different from the rest, a little untraditional I guess—it was an untraditional one that I liked the best. They were very good. I think people took their time and it was a good thing. It was a good time to present the tamales today.”
Also showing excitement about the event was entertainer Noe Pro, who helped judge the event.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing, and it certainly gives us an opportunity to taste the cuisine of this area, not to mention the tradition of the tamales, which is something that everybody does during Christmas,” Pro said. “The one that I liked the best was very different. In fact, it was wrapped in coleslaw, and it seemed a little different. It was wrapped in a clear plastic wrap individually; all of them. Each tamal was wrapped individually, and I thought that was so unique. The presentation just really blew me away. That’s the one that I really liked the most.”
While the competition was very close, only one winner could be crowned, and that was Joel Lievanos of Brownsville.
“It’s great,” Lievanos said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. This is actually the first time we’ve been here and it’s been wonderful.”
Lievanos’ bean tamales received the highest accumulative score based on taste, texture, originality and presentation.
“We’ve been doing these for quite a while,” Lievanos added. “Back in Brownsville they’re a hit. We thought we’d come over here and see what the results were going to be. In our church we have different cultures from Mexico. In difference, I guess it’s our sauce. We use the same sauce for the bean tamales, and they’re a hit.”
Lievanos, who decided to enter the contest after listening to Cantu announce his involvement on KISS 106.3 on Thursday, said that he makes his tamales with his church, “The Light of the World Church,” or “La Luz Del Mundo.”
“It’s a tradition that I believe came from Tampico,” Lievanos said about his recipe. “What we had to do, we had to kind of perfect it because of the quantity and everything. I think the real secret is in the way that we prepare the meat. I think we’ve been making them for over five years in Brownsville. The church where I am a member at sells them. That’s why I decided to come over because we’ve been having more and more people ask us to make more.”
Coming in second place in the contest was Narciza P. Vasquez with her pork tamales, and coming in third place was Susanne Torres, both of San Benito.