Salvadoran chicken and pork tamales wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a string.

The smell of a savory home-cooked meal filled the air near Marshall Elementary School on Saturday afternoon as nine women peeked into steaming pots filled with dozens of tamales.

The women, mothers of Marshall students, were competing in the school community’s first tamales contest. The event was part of the fourth Dia de los Niños, or Day of the Children, festival hosted by the school.

“I’ve always dreamed of a tamale tasting contest,” said Jason Garcia, 36, the contest’s overseer.

Parents came up with the idea about six months ago as a way to bring in the community year after year, Garcia said, adding he hopes that the contest will become an annual fundraiser for the school. Tickets to the benefit fetched $20 to $25 a piece.

“Part of the idea was to try to involve the community, specifically the immigrant community, to be involved in fundraising,” said Jennifer Cruz, 33, who made 40 Salvadoran tamales for the contest. “It’s for the benefit of the children, where kids see the collaboration of the cultures and they see that we can all work together and fuse our cultures together,” added Cruz, whose son attends Marshall.

Community members joined in the tasting, sampling tamales from El Salvador, the Yucatan and other regions of Mexico, as well as Mexican-American versions. Their forks tore through shredded chicken and pork as it oozed out of the masa, or dough, tupped by thick tomato sauce or spicy green chili sauce. With each mouthful, the tasters took detailed notes.

“It sounded like a great opportunity to taste all of these homemade tamales,” said Joy Morgenstern, a Marshall parent. “It adds a sense of community that you find in Latin American countries but not here.”

Guadalupe Guerrero, deputy superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, acted as a guest judge for the contest.

“It’s a win-win for me,” Guerrero said. “It’s a great way to spend time with the community, and it beats the other community meetings.” As kids reveled in games, music and face painting, Garcia tallied up the votes.

Ultimately, there could be only one winner. Pushed by her daughter to compete, Mariela Rodriguez, 40, finally decided to enter for love of making tamales. When she was awarded the $500 prize, an excited Rodriguez said she plans to share her winnings with her sister in Mexico.

“I am so nervous about this,” she said, “my hands are shaking.”

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A swap meet aficionado, the Mission’s outdoor markets and Latino community remind Alicia of her family’s weekly swap meet outings at home, in southeast Los Angeles, where she is always on the lookout for hidden treasures.

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    1. Thank you 94110 for your comment. We decided to use the word tamale because that was the official title of the event.

      Thanks again for your interest in Mission Local.

  1. I was hungry so I went in to try the tamales. For each type they gave me half a tamale. I forgot I was supposed to be “tasting” and not eating so after trying six tamales I was stuffed and couldn’t taste the others. I didn’t get to try the winning tamale, darn!

  2. As a parent at this school, I have eaten my share of tamales at Marshall, and I’ve gotta say this event was AMAZING. All the tamales were top shelf. Although it was not an easy choice, deliberating over it was so much fun. By all means catch it next year with n empty stomach.

    1. Maritza,

      Thank you for your comment. I believe both terms are commonly used interchangeably but Mission Local follows AP conventions on the site, which is why we decided to use Salvadoran instead of Salvadorian.

      Thanks again for your interest in our site.

  3. That was a wonderful idea and I hope to participate in tasting at the 2nd annual tamale contest