Hot Tamale Trail

Hot Tamale Trail

In Latin America, hot tamales are as ubiquitous as the sandwich. This holds true in, of all places, the Mississippi Delta. Better known for its association with cotton and catfish, the Mississippi Delta has a fascinating relationship with tamales. In restaurants, on street corners, and in kitchens throughout the Delta, this very old and time-consuming culinary tradition remains vibrant. But how and when were hot tamales introduced to what has been called “the most Southern place on earth”? And why have they stayed? There are as many answers to those questions as there are tamale recipes. Oral history interviews with tamale makers and vendors in the Delta today offer us some answers. They reveal the various ways in which tamale recipes have been acquired and how they have evolved, helping to explain the persistence of hot tamales in the Mississippi Delta.

READ MORE about the history of tamales in the Mississippi Delta in our introduction, Hot Tamales & The Mississippi Delta.

Go here, for a MAP of Tamale Trail vendors and locations. You might also want to download our iPhone app SFA Stories.

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Together with Viking Range Corporation, we created the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail in an effort to document the history, tradition, and culture of hot tamales from Tunica to Vicksburg, offering cultural tourists a complete guide to a unique culinary experience. So head to the Mississippi Delta, which has been called “the most Southern place on earth” for its unique history, music, culture, and yes, its food.

Grab a shuck and go!



Abe’s Bar-B-Q

Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been in business in the same location since 1937. Pat Davis, Sr. remembers Mexican vendors peddling hot tamales in downtown Clarksdale when he was a kid. At the same time, Pat was helping his father, Lebanese-born Abraham “Abe” Davis, make his own pork-filled tamales by hand in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant.

Grapeland Grill a.k.a. Airport Grocery - Tamara Calhoun - MS - Tamale Trail

Airport Grocery

When he opened the restaurant in 1992, Jonathan wanted to honor the Delta hot tamale tradition. His grandfather was a friend of renowned tamale-maker Joe Pope of Joe’s Hot Tamale Place, a.k.a. White Front Café, in Rosedale. Mr. Pope was generous enough to share his expertise with the Vance family. Pope’s tamale recipe has been used since the beginning. Tamara Calhoun makes the tamales for Airport Grocery according to Joe Pope’s method.

Geno Lee_portrait_cropped

Big Apple Inn

Geno Lee is the fourth-generation owner of the Big Apple Inn. His great-grandfather, Juan “Big John” Mora, who was born in Mexico City, arrived in Jackson in the 1930s

The Bourbon Mall - Mark Azlin - MS - Tamale Trail

Bourbon Mall

The Bourbon Mall is a favorite haunt for many. But it’s the hot tamales the really set the place apart. Mark put hot tamales on the menu as a nod to his Delta roots. As a kid he remembers his father buying hot tamales from Miss Etta, up the road in Leland. But an experiment in the Bourbon Mall’s kitchen led to hot tamales landing in the fryer. Mark claims that The Bourbon Mall put fried tamales on the Delta map.

Delta Fast Food - Gentle Lee Rainey - MS - Tamale Trail

Delta Fast Food

Gentle Lee Rainey was born on Dockery Plantation, a few miles east of Cleveland, Mississippi. Dockery, the one time home of Charlie Patton and Howlin’ Wolf, is widely considered the birthplace of the Blues. For Gentle Lee Rainey, it was the birthplace of the Delta hot tamale. Rainey’s grandfather began making his own version of this Delta delicacy, using corn shucks from the fields, in an effort to earn extra money on the weekends. Eventually, the entire Rainey family learned the art of tamale making.


Doe’s Eat Place

For generations, tamale cravings have been satisfied by coffee cans filled with hot tamales passing out those doors. Today, Doe Signa, Jr. carries on the tradition his father started so many decades ago, ensuring Doe’s Eat Place’s station as a cultural and culinary icon of the Mississippi Delta.

Ervin's Hot Tamales - Rosetta and Edna Ervin - MS - Tamale Trail

Ervin’s Hot Tamales

Rosetta Ervin’s late husband, Louis Ervin, grew up in Tunica County, Mississippi, and learned about hot tamales from a local Jewish man. In 1966, Mr. Ervin purchased a recipe from a man across the river in Arkansas. He paid over one thousand dollars for it, a price that certainly underscores his faith in making and selling tamales.

Ground Zero Blues Club - Trish Berry - MS - Tamale Trail

Ground Zero Blues Club

As a native of the Delta, hot tamales were important to her. To meet the needs of Ground Zero, Trish tasted tamales from vendors around the Delta. She settled on a man in Cleveland to use for her Delta hot tamales. She also wanted to add fried hot tamales to the mix, but the Delta tamales didn’t fry up well. She settled on a tamale out of Texas for those. So belly up to the bar for a taste and then settle in for some live Blues, Delta-style.

Hicks' Famous Hot Tamales and More - Eugene Hicks - MS - Tamale Trail

Hicks’ Famous Hot Tamales and More

Eugene Hicks, born in 1944, has been making hot tamales since 1960. Acy Ware, who peddled tamales on the streets of Clarksdale, gave Hicks his recipe. In 1970, Hicks opened his first restaurant. The recipe has changed a bit over the years as he has experimented with different meats and spices. Hicks has never committed a recipe to writing, though. He works alone to cook and spice the meat, keeping the secrets to himself.

Hot Tamale Heaven (cart) - Larry Lee - MS - Tamale Trail

Hot Tamale Heaven (cart)

A Greenville native, Larry Lee worked a passel of odd jobs before turning to hot tamales as his vocation. Now Larry sells his wares from a brightly painted tamale cart inside Bing’s County Market in Greenville. He hasn’t been at it long, but his electric personality has made him a confident and popular tamale salesman for Hot Tamale Heaven.

Joe's Hot Tamale Place a.k.a. The White Front Cafe - Barbara Pope - Tamale Trail

Joe’s Hot Tamale Place A.K.A. The White Front Cafe

A side-job at first, Joe’s Hot Tamale Place, also known as The White Front Café, became so popular that Joe made it a full-time business when he retired from his day job. Joe passed away in December of 2004, but his youngest sister, Barbara Pope, is still making his famous tamales. Barbara worked by her brother’s side for seven years, helping to fill and roll the tamales by hand. Today, Barbara, her sisters, and their ninety-seven year-old mother, Emma, can be found at the White Front, cooking and selling the same hot tamales that Joe made famous.

John's Homestyle Hot Tamales - John Williams Sr. - Tamale Trail

John’s Homestyle Hot Tamales

To make ends meet, he developed his own tamale recipe and set up shop on South Street in Cleveland, Mississippi. John credits his years as a foreman at D&L to his mastery of hot tamale production. With his son and daughter at his side, John fills and rolls about forty dozen shuck-wrapped tamales an hour. Soon, John hopes to standardize his recipe for manufacture and sell John’s Homestyle Hot Tamales in stores around the country.

Maria's Famous Hot Tamales - Lawrence "Shine" Thornton - MS - Tamale Trail

Maria’s Famous Hot Tamales

When he had a product he could stand by, he named his business after his Sicilian wife, Mary, calling his new venture Maria’s Famous Hot Tamales. Mary now lives in a nursing home, but Shine is still making his meticulously crafted beef tamales out of the custom kitchen behind their house, still inspired by his muse.

Meals On Wheels Hot Tamales and Tacos - Lumumba Ajanaku - MS - Tamale Trail

Meals on Wheels Hot Tamales and Tacos (stand)

After working at other tamale businesses around the Delta, Lumumba took the best elements from each and created something he could call his own. Today, he sells tamales full-time and even takes his stand to events around the state. Lumumba believes that Delta tamales developed from the African American food “cush.” Whatever their origins, Lumumba’s hot tamales will likely be around for a long time to come.

Pasquale's Hot Tamales - Joe St. Columbia - AR - Tamale Trail

Pasquale’s Hot Tamales

A tamale recipe changed hands, and the St. Columbia family began making and selling the portable bundles of meat and masa. The current incarnation of the business, Pasquale’s Hot Tamales, is a clever nod to Joe’s heritage. Today, Joe and his wife, Joyce, operate a tamale stand in West Helena on the weekends and at area festivals. Their son, Joe St. Columbia Jr., manages their booming mail-order business.

Reno's Cafe - Pearl Johnson - MS - Tamale Trail

Reno’s Cafe

Pearl’s tamales are different from most Delta-style tamales. She cooks and serves them in a tomato-based sauce. When asked if there’s a secret to making her tamales, Pearl replies, “Well, no. Not really. It’s just the idea of knowing, you know, how much stuff to use in it.”


Scott’s Hot Tamales

The first time they tried making tamales in their own kitchen, Elizabeth and her husband worked for sixteen hours through the night. They didn’t even have a dozen hot tamales when they were finished. When they moved back home to Mississippi in 1950, they had perfected their recipe and their craft enough to start a side business selling them on Nelson Street in downtown Greenville.

Solly's Hot Tamales - Jewel McCain - MS - Tamale Trail

Solly’s Hot Tamales

Solly’s Hot Tamales has been a Vicksburg tradition since 1939. Henry Solly, a native of Cuba, developed a recipe and began selling hot tamales from a pushcart. Eventually, his tamales got so popular, that he retired the cart and opened a storefront. Solly made tamales at 1921 Washington Street until his death in 1992. Before he died, he offered his business to his friend, May Belle Hampton. May Belle and her daughter, Jewel, continued the tradition. Today, Jewel and her daughter, Deanna, still make tamales according to Solly’s recipe.

Stewart's Quick Mart - Robert Stewart - MS - Tamale Trail

Stewart’s Quick Mart

When Robert was looking for a way to put a little extra money in his pocket, he turned to his grandmother’s recipe. But he made it his own. Robert has crafted beef and chicken tamales, but he makes more turkey-filled hot tamales these days. Regardless of the filling, Robert says that the key to a good hot tamale is in the spice. He puts spices in the meal, the meat, and the water used for simmering. The result is a bright red hot tamale, one that his grandmother would be proud of.

World Championship Hot Tamale Contest - Frank Carlton - MS - Tamale Trail

World Championship Hot Tamale Contest

In the beginning, it was Carlton’s belief that he should round out the competition by bringing in some tamales of his own. So fifteen years ago, after a little trial and error, he came up with version that he now sells to hot tamale connoisseurs throughout the Delta. But, he says, “I don’t feel it’s fair for me to enter the contest because I’d blow them all away.”

featured image fortamale trail map page

XTRAS: Hot Tamale Trail Map

The Mississippi Delta is the flat alluvial plain that flanks the western part of the state. This leaf-shaped area is often referred to as the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, for its borders are defined by these two powerful rivers. David L. Cohn, author of God Shakes Creation and Greenville native, devised a geo-cultural definition of the region. … Continued

Tamale Marker

XTRAS: Hot Tamales & The Blues

On August 26, 2011, a ceremony was held in front of Joe’s Hot Tamale Place in Rosedale, MS, to unveil marker #138 on the Mississippi Blues Trail: Hot Tamales and The Blues. This is the first culinary marker in the state of Mississippi. We began documenting Delta tamales in 2005 and created the Mississippi Delta … Continued

Joe Pope_In Memoriam

XTRAS: In Memoriam

In December 2004, revered hot tamale cook and vendor Joe Pope of Rosedale, Mississippi, passed away. He embodied the history of hot tamales in the Mississippi Delta.

tamale trail_recipe image

XTRAS: Tamale Recipe

Tamale recipes vary from place to place, person to person. In the Mississippi Delta, no two people make hot tamales exactly the same.

tamales and music_delta hot tamale festival

XTRAS: Tamales & Music

Two songs, and the men who recorded them, further complicate the origins of tamale tradition in the Mississippi Delta.

Fat Johnnie's_Chicago

XTRAS: The Chicago Connection

Think of a Chicago-style hotdog, smothered in peppers and onions. Then substitute a tamale for the dog, and you begin to get the idea of what you’ll find at some Southside Chicago joints.