Phoenix grandmother has booming tamale business, explains why tamales are so popular

Martha Rocio Castillo says her business, The Tamale Store in north Phoenix, has been making 5,000 tamales a day.
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 5:00 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2022 at 6:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — It’s kind of like Santa’s workshop, but instead of making toys, they’re cooking tamales, about 5,000 a day. The Tamale Store on Cave Creek Road in North Phoenix has quite a wish list for Christmas, including pork red chile, green corn and cheese, and southwest veggie tamales.

Every recipe starts with owner Martha Rocio Castillo, the 59-year-old grandmother, keeping a close eye on every tamale that goes out, making sure the masa, meat filling and secret spices are just right. She calls each tamale a dish of love. “If you make the tamales when you are mad, the tamales they are no good,” said Castillo. “They don’t cook right. It’s a tradition, really.”

Castillo’s love of tamales started when she was a young girl growing up in Mexico City. She remembers getting together with brothers, sisters, and cousins, making tamales for special occasions. “If you ask anybody, they can say, ‘Oh, tamales, I remember when my family was together making tamales in Christmas time when family is together,’” said Castillo. “You get together and work this labor of love.”

Castillo moved to the U.S. and decided to pass on the family tamale traditions to her children. What started with a couple of tamales to sell at local farmer’s markets blossomed into a booming business, and the Tamale Store was born. “I think what’s really cool is that we get to share these flavors with the community,” said Castillo’s daughter Pauline Pimienta, “with people that have never tried tamales. I love that these recipes come from generations past, our grandma, aunts, uncles. Now we can share them with everyone.”

Arizona’s Family asked Castillo why tamales are such a big deal around Christmas. She said tamales themselves date back thousands of years to the time of the Aztecs. Over time, they’ve become a symbol of love and family, and deliciousness. “I think people love tamales because they’re amazing,” said Pimienta.