Last week we chatted with Abraham Salum in our ongoing holiday nod to the neat treat, tamales. Today we visit with another giant in the tamale industry, La Popular. The Tamale House has gained a reputation for not only making quality tamales year round, but also takes pride in giving back to the community as we will find out with this Q&A with both Jesse Moreno Sr. and Jr. at La Popular.
La Popular is one of the most respected tamale makers in Dallas and for a good reason. The tamale continually makes the top of any best tamale list since they opened in 1984. There are currently two locations for La Popular, one in the Lakewood area and the other in Shed #2 at the Dallas Farmers Market. There is a vision for a third location at a market north of Dallas.
Jump to join the conversation with the Moreno family.
Busy time of year guys?
Jesse Jr: Absolutely. This is our busiest time of year and we have already taken quite a few orders and now just trying to keep up with demand. We probably do 90% of our business in a week’s period.
So how do you make the tamales?
Jesse Jr: We start off by grinding our own corn to make the masa and we add that o the corn husks that we soak over night. We do a traditional pork, pork and jalapeno, beef, chicken, and we are one of the few that started doing a vegetarian and vegan tamale for our customers. We do a bean and also a rajas tamale. The masa is also gluten-free. We also do special orders. We had a customer today who brought in his own game, so we will be making elk tamales.
We are making these tamales all by hand with crews that are working around the clock. They are always fresh and never frozen.
Jesse Sr. is referred to as the doctor of tamalogy. Care to elaborate?
Jesse Sr: I suppose it’s because I am the master at making tamales, but tamales have been made since 5,000 BC in the pre-Colombian era. Every time you get a tamale from la Popular you are getting a piece of us. This is a little gift wrapped in a corn husk.
Why did you switch from using Manteca to corn oil?
Jesse Sr: We never used Manteca, we have always used corn oil. We have been doing this for over 30 years. It really has been about the tastes of our clientele.
What is the secret to a great tamale?
Jesse Sr: It’s got to be the love. Really, we use the best ingredients and make these each by hand. You just can’t get any better than that, and we do this because we sincerely love our clientele. We are part of this community and want everyone to enjoy what we do here.
Speaking of community, your family does a lot of volunteer work and also works closely with DISD. Tell us a bit about that.
Jesse Sr: I had some really good mentors when I was growing up, and I think giving back is the right thing to do. I especially want to empower women and children. I think everyone is born smart, but some have the right tools and others don’t. It really is up to the local businesses to do what the parents aren’t able to do. It’s up to all of us, really.
How many tamales are you going to make this holiday?
Jesse Sr: I really have no idea, but I know when I sleep all I see is the yellow of the corn husk. I am working 18 hours a day and as we get closer to Christmas it will be even more. But it’s worth it. In January I am taking the family and some kids I mentor to a ski resort in Colorado. That’s my next day off.
What advice do you have for those wanting to make their own tamales?
Jesse Jr: We do offer a do-it-yourself tamale kit. We sell the homemade masa, the corn husks and meat so you can take them home and make them yourself if you wish. I think people really love the smell of the tamales as much as they do eating them.
The Moreno family will be working Christmas Day feeding anyone needing a hot meal at their location in East Dallas. They are joined each year by friends, family and community leaders, each taking part to make sure everyone has a good meal that day.