Now, she plans to serve tamales for Christmas dinner along with ham, a green bean casserole and scalloped potatoes. Yona Hong, 35, said that as a Korean-American, rice is always the main dish when she joins family for a big meal. But this Christmas, tamales will be a side-dish, sharing the bill with turkey, shrimp and kimchi, a fermented mix of vegetables and seasoning. Hong, who lives in Koreatown, sees tamales as a delicious alternative to fried food. “Burgers and French fries, if you think about it, it’s not good for you,” Hong said. “But tamales, it’s made out of vegetables or meat and it’s cooked.” Fellow tamale fan Gloria Lusear will fly home to Arkansas with the treats also in tow to have with champagne in a light Christmas Eve dinner with her family. She says L.A. tamales are better than the Mississippi Delta variety called “hot tamales” that she grew up with – which came out of a can. For this Christmas, she is ordering her tamales from a bakery in East Los Angeles. “I love them, and I’ve never had a decent tamale in Arkansas,” Lusear said. Mexican tamales are usually filled with shredded beef or chicken and a mole sauce of chilies and spices, surrounded by a layer of dough called “masa” made from ground corn mixed with some kind of fat. The Gourmet Tamale Factory uses a spread that has no trans fat, but in Mexico tamale makers often use lard. In the two years since opening California Tamale House in North Hills, Juan Gonzalez, 40, said he has also noticed the popularity of tamales among non-Latinos reach new heights. Filipino-Americans and Korean- Americans especially like them, he said. The tamale also is growing in popularity in other parts of the United States because of the globalization of tastes, said Teresa Esquivel, the Phoenix-based managing editor of Food Product Design magazine. Whole Foods and other specialty stores, as well as TV’s Food Network, are introducing consumers to food from around the world, Esquivel said. “Everyone’s expectations are a little higher, and their taste buds are a little more curious,” she said. Just as the tamale has grown in popularity among non-Latinos, Monica Melgoza, 30, of Lincoln Heights, has grown less enamored of it. In the days before Christmas, she watches her aunts make tamales in their kitchen – a couple of thousand for family, friends and clients. There are some Japanese-American clients, and the aunts have even shipped tamales to Mexico. But it’s not easy. “It’s really a bonding experience because there’s so much work, you have to spend a lot of hours together,” Melgoza said. Tamales are the main dish on Christmas Eve at the Melgoza household, but Melgoza said she no longer can stand them. “Maybe because my family is so involved in tamales and I have to smell it every Christmas,” said Melgoza, who is a development officer at the Los Angeles Music Center. But others, including Sandi Romero, have not lost their taste for tamales. Romero is co-founder of a Westlake nonprofit called Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe that is a business incubator giving struggling tamale vendors a chance to begin a career. Romero, too, has noticed the growing popularity of tamales among non-Latinos. Her tamales are organic and lard-free, and Romero said that appeals to a broad range of customers. “That’s where I see the trend growing, a lot of vegan people, a lot of people who are health conscious,” she said. Ortega at Gourmet Tamale Factory, however, has a different vision for the American tamale. He sees a tamale chain restaurant as a good business venture. “I’m almost positive,” he said, “that pretty soon someone’s going to come out with a … fast- food tamale.” [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonWhen Ortega and his wife, Magali, opened Gourmet Tamale Factory a couple of years ago, just 30percent of customers were non- Latino. Now, that’s up to nearly 50percent, Ortega said. And in the tamale rush leading up to Christmas, non-Latino customers surge to 70percent, Ortega said. Born of German and Slavic ancestry, Peggy Arndt, 57, is one of those customers. Arndt grew up around tamales while living in San Fernando, but she generally avoided them. She had a change of heart, however, after tasting an Ortega family tamale. With practiced hands, workers at Gourmet Tamale Factory have been turning out the tasty tidbits as fast as they can for the past few weeks as they brace for today when dozens of customers will throng to the store. For many families from Mexico and Latin America, it’s just not Christmas without tamales, and there will be plenty of folks flocking to the San Fernando eatery to get a last-minute taste of tradition. But a growing number of non-Latinos are also starting to make tamales a Christmas tradition, said Roberto Ortega, owner of the factory. “I feel like I’m doing something right, that I got hold of something, a little trend, and I need to do something more with it,” the 37-year-old Ortega said.