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A tamale from the Indio festival
Omid Tavallai/Flickr

DECEMBER

Indio International Tamale Festival

If you have never unwrapped the corn husk of a tamale to reveal the delicious, steaming masa inside—well, you have a good thing coming. Head for the Indio International Tamale Festival, held every December in the Coachella Valley town of Indio, 37 kilometres east of Palm Springs. The largest festival of its kind in the world, the event provides the perfect opportunity to experience an incredible array of authentic, home-made tamales from all over Central and South America.

More than 300 vendors serve tasty tamales along with other various food and drink options, but tamales are not the only reason hungry attendees show up to this free event every year. The IITF also holds a best-recipe competition, a tamale-eating contest (the competition is fierce: over 300,000 are consumed at the festival every year), a parade, fairground rides and a farmers' market. Five stages feature live performers—rock, funk and R&B bands, folk dancers, and Latin and mariachi bands—and a car show featuring roaring hot rods and low riders all add to the excitement (the festival’s website has a map of the festival grounds). Festival-goers can even learn how to make tamales and tortillas themselves in the demonstration kitchen. For junior festival-goers, there are the free activities in the Kids Zone, a piñata stage and an interactive art area sponsored by S.C.R.A.P. (Student Creative Recycling Art Program).

It is no wonder that this event—which has been around since 1992—has earned a place on the Food Network’s Top 10 list of American food festivals.

Note: admission to the festival is free; parking is available for no charge at the Larson Justice Center. Only assistance dogs are allowed.