Talking Tamales with Osbaldo Hernandez from Frelard Tamales

Last week we talked with Laura Clise, the founder of Intentionalist, and discussed how to make your spending count. This week we talked with Osbaldo Hernandez about his business Frelard Tamales and also the need to rethink how we value food from other cultures.

For Osbaldo, food has always been a part of his life. Osbaldo moved to the U.S. when he was 12 years-old from Mexico. His father worked in different Mexican restaurants while his mother started making and selling tamales as a way to supplement their income. Now, she’s their kitchen manager.

The following is a summary of our conversation with Osbaldo. To hear more from Osbaldo and his mom and get a tamale tying lesson, join us tomorrow for “Lunch Like It Matters.”

💡 How Frelard Tamales got started:
“The business started in 2015 with my husband and I — at the time we were not married we were just dating — and he’s white, I’m Mexican. We were just kind of looking for a side gig on the weekends and we really liked going to farmer’s markets. My mom had been making tamales in the East Side since like 2002. So we said well, how about if we bring her tamales to this side, and we try to sell them at Fremont Market.

We started selling them at farmer’s markets out of this really cheap tent that we bought at Fred Meyer that broke apart in the second week. We were using camping stoves and using those green propane things you buy at Safeway that don’t refill and run out in like 30 minutes. We’d go through like 15 of those a weekend. Customers started learning about us and we started just growing in terms of sales and more customers. It went from being just a side gig to moving into fairs and festivals in the area. We went from three fairs one year to 15 and 20 in three years.

We were growing so much we needed an actual space. We found a place not in the Frelard area, but in Green Lake which confuses people. We kind of make fun of it now, it’s a fun joke that, you know, Frelard is in Green Lake.”

❓What is a tamale?
“A tamale is made out of cornmeal, corn flour on the outside and is filled with fillings. The most traditional fillings are shredded chicken breast or shredded pork and those meats are cooked in a sauce. Chicken typically is cooked in a green sauce and pork is cooked in a red sauce. Other traditional ones are jalapeno and cheese and then the sweet corn is another very popular tamale.

It’s important to distinguish that there are other versions of tamales but this one’s from Jalisco which is a state in Mexico. They’re wrapped in a corn husk, and then the cornmeal, the cornflour, and then filled with a filling and steamed.”

🤝 On their different partnerships:
“From the beginning, when the pandemic started, we have been partnering with local flower farmers to have flowers in our shop, but also available for delivery. We do twice a week deliveries to households all the way from the south end of Seattle over to Renton and all the way to Kirkland.

Then we did some pies from the local black-owned pie shop in the Mount Baker neighborhood and other partners we now have are minority or BIPOC-owned businesses. The women, LGBTQ, BIPOC businesses that we partner with are typically very small like us, and the goal is not to make money. The purpose is to at the same time as we are elevating our business is to also elevate theirs and get them access to more customers and it’s been really well received by customers.”

🤔 Misconceptions about Mexican food:
“[For example] when you go to a place and they charge you $15 for a whole homestyle made the meal Mexican dish and you’re like ‘whoa, this is really expensive.’ But then you go to an Italian restaurant or you go to an Asian restaurant or Indian restaurant and you’re, ‘Oh, you know, $18 for this butter chicken? Yeah, that’s pretty normal.’ The idea is that Mexican food has to be cheap and that if it isn’t cheap, it’s not right. And I think that is a huge misunderstanding because Mexican food is equally rich in history and culture and flavors, as is Indian food, or Asian food.

[Making tamales] is a multi-tier process it takes an average person making a batch like three or four hours to make. And then there are foods like pozole, which we were featuring a couple weeks ago but it takes about eight hours to just get ready to begin cooking.

Realistically most people come…if you like tamales you’re used to cheap tamales like $2. I think people need to reconsider their understanding of the cost of food and ask themselves why is taco a dollar fifty? Think about the environmental impact — how is this meat being raised? How is it being treated? But also think about the workers making the food.”

🗓 Upcoming events/specials:
“Currently, we’re planning to do a Dia de los Muertos set, which we’re really excited about. We’re doing real sugar skulls and flowers that are in the colors, traditionally used for Dia de los Muertos, and Pan de Muerto which is a Mexican sweet bread.”

You can pre-order a set on their website which also includes 12 tamales, fresh flowers from Thao Farm, a handcrafted mask, and special two candles from Fingerprint & Co.

4 Quick Questions w/ Osbaldo:

🌭 Favorite Seattle restaurant: Cycle Dogs and Tacos Chukis

🍽 Favorite place to get a tamale that isn’t Frelard: El Chito or Los Hernandez Tamales

🧠 One thing he wants people to know about Mexican food: Mexican food shouldn’t be “cheap.”

🥤 Best thing to drink with a tamale: Champurrado (a type of atole) in the winter or an agua fresca in the summer.

💼 The Evergrey’s Top 10 Latinx-owned restaurants:

  1. Carnitas Michoacan (Beacon Hill)
  2. Sazon Kitchen (Ballard and Queen Anne)
  3. Malena’s Taco Shop (Queen Anne)
  4. La Carta de Oaxaca (Ballard)
  5. Frelard Tamales (Green Lake)
  6. Manu’s Tacos (Pioneer Square)
  7. Little Neon Taco (First Hill)
  8. Fogón Cocina Mexicana (Capitol Hill)
  9. Rancho Bravo (Capitol Hill and Wallingford)
  10. Los Agaves (Pike Place Market)