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The Tiniest Tamales in the World are Found in the Streets of Los Angeles

12:05 PM PST on January 26, 2023

    Irma Y. Perez holding Tamal Samples: Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. Taco

    Irma Yolanda Perez, a 60-year-old Guatemalan woman, makes about 80 Guadalajara-inspired tamales daily. She makes them petite, and as she folds the corn husk over the masa, she cuts off the extra ends and uses them to make the cutest little tamal samples you’ll ever find. 

    She gets a ride to Venice Boulevard, props up an umbrella, and a small table for the tamales, pulls out a book, and sits there reading, hoping someone will come by to try her tamales. And if someone is hesitant, she’s ready with her blazing smile, her bubbly personality, and the tiny tamal samples as cute as her jokes.

    The tamal samplers, surprisingly, aren’t a sales or marketing strategy, as brilliantly as they naturally may seem to be. Irma Yolanda Perez simply loves samples and getting free samples because “it feels nice.” She would go to Trader Joe’s and just thought about how lovely it was and how nice it felt to get free samples, so she also decided to do the same. “I’m going to make samples too. People need to be able to taste what they’re buying, and it feels nice.”

    Irma Y. Perez sitting next to her tamal stand: Irma Y. Perez holding Tamal Samples: Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    A tamal and a sample: Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Her early struggles selling tamales also had Perez eyeing ways to get people to taste them at least. When she first started, she started selling chuchitos, a Guatemalan-style tamal. But it was a struggle; chuchito to non-Guatemalan Spanish speakers means puppies, and well, you can imagine that struggle. Perez says jokingly, “people would look under my table and ask, where are the chuchitos?” So a friend taught her how they make tamales in Guadalajara, another miracle of God, as Perez calls it, and now that’s what she sells. 

    Perez is a Christian missionary who dedicates herself to her cell (as she calls the chapter of her church). “This is a labor of love,” she tells L.A. TACO, “because if you don’t work, you don’t eat. That’s the real world; there’s nothing spiritual about that.” She takes her tamal earnings and donates them to her missionary group. She doesn’t have any other income; she lives at the church, and her clothing was given to her. She lives by “the love of god,” according to her. Her goal now is to grow her church cell and help her church expand. 

    You can find Perez from Tuesday through Friday at 8:30 AM and Saturdays at 9:30 AM. She stays until she sells out, sometimes as late as 6 PM. Stop by, grab a sample, and buy the ones you like. You can walk down to Venice Bakery on the same block and grab a sugarless café de olla to help wash it down. 

    Irma Y Perez reads while waiting for customers by her tamal stand: Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    10935 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 33 - "Venice/Midvale (westbound)" or "Venice/Girard (eastbound)."

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