Food and drink

Sounds of Mexico: Cinco Pesos Los Tamales

23 October, 2015

If you head across Guanajuato’s San Francisco square in the late afternoon and walk towards the Venetian-style bridge that arches across from Cafe Santo, you’ll have a good chance of hearing the ‘Cinco Pesos Los Tamales’ guy long before you see him.

Cafe Santo - credit: Christian, FourSquare

I didn’t really know what a tamale was before I got to Mexico. But after undertaking some serious research, I can confirm that a tamale is a snack consisting of corn dough and a sweet or savoury filling, wrapped in a leaf or corn husk and then steamed or boiled until the corn resembles soft polenta and the filling resembles something extremely tasty. It’s satisfying and warming, and great street food. It doesn’t look very appetising here, but they’re good, trust me.

Spinach tamale

The Cinco Pesos guy has the usual setup: a cart holding a huge steel pot full of steaming tamales, a slightly smaller kettle containing the hot, gloopy chocolate corn drink, champurrado, and assorted containers holding plastic forks, serviettes and various other knickknacks.

A pot full of tamales

But unlike the tamale ladies at Plaza Baratillo who sit quietly and wait for their customers, Cinco Pesos man calls out his sing-song jingle to passersby every few minutes:


He shouts out the different flavours too. There are some sweet options, like guayaba and pineapple, and savoury fillings like chicken, mole, cheese and chicharron (pig skin).

But it’s the “Cinco pesos los tamales” that will be forever burned into my brain, and the phrase I now find myself whisper-shouting every time we see a tamale stand.

Here it is:

It’s fun, isn’t it? He’s a legend around Guanajuato – anyone who has spent any time in the city can give you their own rendition of his jingle. It’s strangely comforting to hear. I hope he never stops.

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