Sort-of Secret: Mamey, a family run pop-up and delivery service specializing in homemade tamales
The sort-of secret: Mamey, a new tamal operation run by three sisters
You may have heard of it if: You caught one of their pop-ups in Toronto or Hamilton
But you probably haven’t tried it because: Everything is handmade and deliveries are monthly
Part of the joy in eating a tamal is in opening the bundle, wrapped in a corn husk, to release a plume of aromatic steam that hints at what’s inside. Then, you cut through soft, pillowy masa to reveal the filling—like tender shredded chicken with bright and zingy salsa verde. There’s something gleeful about it—like unwrapping a gift—and in the case of tamales from Mamey, a new pop-up and delivery business, what’s inside is as delightful as the process of getting there.
For the sisters behind Mamey—Jenny, Clarissa and Steph Vasquez—making and eating tamales is a matter of rhythm and ritual, passed down through generations of women. The business launched last October with a pop-up at Black Lab Brewery in the east end; since then, Mamey has opened a fully fledged delivery business (including packs of frozen tamales) alongside regular pop-ups in Toronto and Hamilton.
“It’s a very intuitive process,” says Clarissa. “We’re always tasting, and it has to feel right. Our family is Guatemalan, which has its own lineage of recipes, but we’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to tamales from other traditions, like Colombian, Mexican and Peruvian. We had all that history in mind when we started to work on what our masa dough was going to look and taste like.”
Mamey’s masa—maize dough made from ground, non-nixtamalized corn—is flavoured with a secret blend the sisters call “mom’s spice mix.” They won’t reveal the recipe, but it’s subtle enough to fly under the radar while lending the tender dough fullness and body. As for the fillings, there’s a rotating series: plant-based tamales are a focus, though there’s always a chicken tamal on the menu. The El Pepián, a recent menu item, is a deep, smoky blend of shredded chicken and Mayan Indigenous mole sauce made with a mix of vegetables, nuts, seeds and Guatemalan chocolate. Heady, sweet and lightly spicy, it’s a solid introduction to Mamey’s flavours.
A past feature, La Prima, paired roasted red pepper, corn, onion, tomato and jalapeño with cilantro and other (also secret) seasonings. With bursts of sweetness from the corn and depth from the roasting process, it’s an absolute joy to eat. Another recent vegetarian item, the Diego, was a hearty blend of pinto beans and poblano peppers finished with crumbly cotija cheese. Either goes beautifully with Mamey’s avocado tomatillo or roasted red pepper and tomato salsa—fresh, vegetal blends that lift whatever they touch.
Desserts, in the form of sweet tamales and other delights, are also on offer. The maracuyá bar, with passion fruit curd and a crunchy cookie crust, is a mainstay. It’s tart, buttery and hard to put your finger on—like a lemon bar with much more personality. There’s also a vegan dark chocolate tamal, where the dough is made with a blend of cocoa powder, rice and corn flour; inside, there’s melty vegan chocolate, and it comes complete with fluffy coconut whipped cream.
For hot, ready-to-eat tamales, catch Mamey at one of their pop-ups—their website is updated with new events regularly, as is their social media. Otherwise, you can order a pack of frozen tamales (the best way to cook them is by steaming). Mamey delivers to Toronto and Hamilton once a month, but we may see their goods inside Toronto shops soon enough.