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Winning tamales

VISALIA — Mariana Garcia doesn't usually sell tamales, but after impressing judges Saturday at the Visalia Tamale Festival, she said she might start her own catering company.

"This is my first time doing this," Garcia said about selling tamales and having them judged. "I was talked into doing this."

Garcia's tamales tied for first place with tamales from Braulio's Place restaurant of Visalia during the festival at Summers Park on Ferguson Avenue and Dinuba Boulevard.

The first of its kind in Visalia, the event included live music, games for children and a display of lowrider cars.

The secret to great tamales, according to Garcia, is experience, because you have to know which type of masa and spices work best with pork, chicken and beef.

Garcia's winning tamales almost didn't make it to a group of local judges for tasting at the start of the festival.

"They weren't ready in time," she said.

But later, Garcia's 300 tamales were going fast. "I think we're running out," she said.

Tim Ruiz, a recreation supervisor with the city, said the tamales were judged on four criteria: their look and smell; the taste of the masa; the taste of the filling, such as the pork or chicken; and the taste of the full tamale.

Florence Perez of Corcoran said she liked the chicken and pork tamales from La Mexicana Restaurant in Orosi. Those tamales had good moisture, she said.

Perez said she taught her daughter how to make tamales, which is a family tradition during the holiday.

Five generations of her family were at the festival, Perez said.

"I'm going to get stuffed," she said. "I make my own, but it's nice to eat someone else's tamales."

Ruiz said he estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 people would attend the city-sponsored event. He said the city is considering having next year's festival at a larger venue.

Ruiz said he got the idea of having a local festival from the International Tamale Festival in Indio. The large two-day festival in Southern California is also taking place this weekend.

Miguel Rangel, with La Mexicana Restaurant, said Visalia's smaller event has the potential to grow into something larger.

"I think it's going to catch on," he said.

Rangel was selling chile verde, pork, cheese and jalapeno, beef and chicken tamales for $2 each.

Debby Pick of Australia said she was visiting family for Thanksgiving and wanted to check out the festival because good Mexican food is hard to come by in the land down under.

"It's not the same," she said about Mexican food in Australia. "You have to come to California."