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A Morrissey Fan Is Killing the Vegan Tamal Game in L.A.

It’s that time of year again when tamalitos reign supreme and tamaladas are in full effect with families in complete assembly formation around a kitchen table, mixing, filling, wrapping, and steaming up the nostalgic masa regalitos we’re desperately craving to unwrap. Luckily every Angeleno has their go-to tamalera/o they swear by and support. But something is shifting in the world of the tamal. The parcel usually packed with lard and animal meat has gone vegan, and in Los Angeles, you can blame a die-hard Morrissey fan for the delicious switch. 

The vegan tamal everyone should give a chance to comes from Shane’s Tamales. Owner Chayane Sarabia, a name that’s obviously not spelled or pronounced “Shane,” says the name stuck after a home economics teacher refused to get Chayane’s name right (Shy-Ann). Instead (and unfortunately), Chayane learned to just roll with it and uses the anglicized version of his name as his business name while selling his tasty tamales all across Los Angeles County and beyond. 

Before COVID hit, you’d find Chayane posted up at eastside bars like Footsie’s in Highland Park and vegan food fests. Today, he’s picking back up with his usual pop-up lineups at breweries as well as offering online ordering via Instagram DMs.   

The tamal Chayane’s mother, Micaela Peña Sarabia, fed him as a kid molded the memories he holds close. “I’ve been making tamales with my mother and aunts since I can remember. Usually around the holidays with old Mexican corridos blasting and my mom always holding back tears. She still loves listening to music that reminds her of her childhood.”

At this point, Chayane, an insanely devout Morrissey fan, was a vegetarian after following in the British singer’s footsteps. So when he first started making tamales in 2009 on a whim as something to bring to a friendsgiving, he had a lot of work to do when it came to reverse engineering the specific flavor of his mom’s tamales while also making it vegan. But since his friends were a mix of vegetarians and vegans, it was just easier to develop an all-vegan tamal to accomodate everyone. (Chayane went full vegan in 2011). So he put in the work and, of course, made sure his mom was his first taste-tester, which proved to be tough because asking Micaela to critique one of her kids is like pulling teeth. But they eventually got it just right, a fine-tuning feat that took a good five years. He went from feeding friends at what they called “Morrissey Family Dinners” to taking bigger orders from friends of friends to finally leaving his job in late 2018 to whip up tamales full-time. 

But honestly, no matter what you order, these tamales activate that classic “Ratatouille” moment where you’re snatched back into your childhood, pupils dilated. You feel the comfort of nostalgia all after one singular bite. A tamal is simply an edible time capsule of love. 

Shane’s Tamales delivers the fluffiest and juiciest plant-based tamal you’ll ever eat. “The texture of the masa is very different because where my mom, where my parents are from, the mid-North part of Mexico the masa tends to be thinner, and there tends to be more filling. Whereas, I like the tamales from Mexico in the Southern part, which tend to be fluffier and more masa-oriented. But the flavor itself is very reminiscent of the way my mom makes the tamales,” says Chayane.

The most popular is the shredded chicken with green chile (soy + wheat) and the pork with red chile (mushroom). He says the latter is hands down an exact flavor replica of his childhood. That and the bean and cheese are his go-to recs. 

You also have the choice to kick up your tamal hasta el cielo by choosing the loaded boat version, which means your tamal comes dressed up in pico de gallo, cultured cashew crema, guacamole, pickled onions, and salsa (roasted garlic and tomatillo). 

But honestly, no matter what you order, these tamales activate that classic “Ratatouille” moment where you’re snatched back into your childhood, pupils dilated. You feel the comfort of nostalgia all after one singular bite. A tamal is simply an edible time capsule of love. 

“Best reaction is when they tell me it reminds them of their childhood or of their family, specifically of their mother or grandmother,” says Chayane.

To this day, his mom is not only his business partner but also his trusty sous chef. And on any given prep night, you’ll find them side-by-side in the kitchen listening to “Moneda sin Valor” by Los Alegres de Teran. Micaela’s eyes are swollen with emotion as she listens to the song her father loved as they both prepare batches of vegan tamales for us to love.

The best way to place an order is via Instagram DM @shanestamales or follow along to see where he’s popping up: 38 for a dozen tamales, with sides available for purchase.  

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