Ana Caballero poses for a portrait in the kitchen at Craft Hall in Philadelphia. Proyecto Tamal, launched by Caballero, has been featuring the tamale artistry of various members of Philly's Latino community since March, raising money for workers affected by the pandemic who do not have access to government assistance.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Ana Caballero poses for a portrait in the kitchen at Craft Hall in Philadelphia. Proyecto Tamal, launched by Caballero, has been featuring the tamale artistry of various members of Philly's Latino community since March, raising money for workers affected by the pandemic who do not have access to government assistance.

Tamales, the South Philly weekend ritual, nourish and raise funds

Who would be left behind? Chef Ana Caballero knew immediately when restaurants shut down in March that Philly’s unemployed immigrant Latino workers were at risk. They’re an essential cornerstone of our local food scene, but many cannot get access to government benefits.

And so Caballero turned to the power of tamales to make a difference.

Her Proyecto Tamal began out of the kitchen at Lost Bread Co. in Craft Hall, and it has become a popular weekly tamale sale to raise funds for different guest chefs each week who share their culinary traditions.

Several months later, this project is still steaming, raising over $2,600 each week for a pair of cooks. The direct assistance has been essential for participants like Olga Castillo from Guatemala and Sergio Mateo from Puebla.

But the benefit has also been shared as Philadelphians get a rare opportunity to taste nearly 60 variations of tamales that reflect the diversity of the city’s Latino communities.

Made with fresh masa nixtamalized and milled at Cadence Restaurant, chefs have produced mole-laced Poblano tamales, Guatemalan-style lanquinero tamales stuffed with pig’s head, Dominican pasteles en hoja with chicken picadillo, and pork rib montuca tamales typical of Caballero’s home region of Western Honduras.

Tamales are made in the kitchen at Craft Hall. The proceeds from Proyecto Tamal go directly to the cooks, all of whom have been affected by the pandemic and do not have access to government assistance.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Tamales are made in the kitchen at Craft Hall. The proceeds from Proyecto Tamal go directly to the cooks, all of whom have been affected by the pandemic and do not have access to government assistance.

“Tamales are a form of communication usually eaten and shared in family places,” says Mateo. “They’re a way to reunite people for gatherings, wakes, and celebrations. … But sometimes we also need help. So making and selling tamales is a way of sharing that flavor of love, and also saying we are here right now — we are present.”

El Proyecto Tamal, order in advance online, $16 per four pack, for pickup Sundays at Lost Bread Co. (1313 N. Howard St.), Rival Bros. Coffee (1100 Tasker St.), and Jezebel’s Cafe (206 S. 45th St.).