Tamales are a beautiful thing: A wonderfully self-contained dish of delicate, slightly sweet masa (basically a corn dough) filled with meat or vegetables and wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf until steamed to perfection.
Hola Cultura, a nonprofit that helps promote Washington's Latino community, is the host of the Sunday event at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Columbia Heights.
The group's managing editor, Christine MacDonald, said inspiration for TamalFest arose after holding a tamalada, or tamal-making party, with her summer interns.
MacDonald worked with embassies and restaurants to find 10 contenders for the lighthearted competition, which will crown people's choice awards in professional and amateur categories.
Represented nations include Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala and Peru.
Even after living in Mexico for six years and eating lots of tamales, MacDonald had no idea there was so much diversity in the dish throughout the Americas. Some nations have different names for this staple -- "hallaca" in Venezuela or "humita" in Chile and Bolivia. Most variations include the corn dough and meat, though vegetarian ones exist. Some versions use rice or mashed bananas rather than masa, MacDonald said.
Expect a wide array at TamalFest, including classic Mexican tamales filled with pork or chicken, Oaxacan tamales with mole sauce and chicken and Peruvian tamales with pork, olives and boiled eggs. There will be a few meatless options, such as Salvadoran tamales filled with a three-mushroom blend or an eight-vegetable mix, both served with a tomato-based sauce.
"Every country seems to have a little different take," MacDonald said.
TamalFest DC, Sunday, 5-8 p.m., at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton St. NW. $8 in advance or $10 at the door; family four-pack $30. 202-733-0335. www.holacultura.com.