The first time Miguel Herrera sold his Huasteca-style tamales at the Brownsville Farmers’ Market he brought along 90 of them and sold out within two hours.
It’s become a regular event. Herrera, an environmental sciences junior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, now brings 120 to 130 tamales for walk-up customers every Saturday at the market and sells out by 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. The chicken and pork tamales he makes fresh the night before. That’s in addition to the tamales he brings for customers who’ve ordered in advance throughout the week via his Instagram page, Tamali Mio. Herrera will also deliver for a small fee. It’s a one-man show.
“It’s just me myself,” said the Brownsville native. “I do everything basically from the cooking to the selling.”
Business has been so good in the year since he started peddling tamales at the market that he scaled back his course load to two classes a semester to keep from burning out juggling the business with school. The holidays were especially intense, Herrera said.
“It gets to a point where I’m just sitting there making them and it’s like, what did I get myself into?” he said.
Herrera said environmental sciences, specifically oceanography, was intended to be his Plan A and tamales his Plan B, though it’s starting to seem like the other way around.
His recipes originate in the same place he found his love of food: the tropical Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, where he spent summers as a child running around his grandparents’ ranch in the small town of Tamuin, milking cows and making cheese with his grandfather and learning how to cook from his grandmother.
“They would take us to different places to try different tamales,” Herrera said. “The ones that would always come out the best were my grandma’s.”
He made tamales just for his family until a friend convinced him to try selling them at the farmers market. It was Herrera’s grandmother who taught him how to make them, but it was his mother, born in Tamuin, who helped him refine them.
“She was the one that was giving me tips — you need some more of this, try this, try more of this — because she’s always the perfectionist,” he said.