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When you think about Mexican food, you might first think of tacos, quesadillas, and burritos. But what about tamales?

A Mexican dish consisting of cornmeal dough around a filling of minced meat and red peppers, tamales are not as well known compared to many of the cuisine’s dishes. But popularising it in Singapore is a brand by the name of Tamales Mexicanos.

Born in Puebla, Mexico, its founder Maribel has always been deeply passionate about sharing the rich tapestry of her heritage.

This passion only grew when she moved to the island after meeting her Singaporean husband while pursuing her master’s degree in Melbourne.

Not just her partner in life, Aminurashid Ahmad (who goes by Ash) is also Maribel’s business partner as a co-founder of Tamales Mexicanos.

“The seeds of Tamales Mexicanos were planted during a trip to Mexico back in 2014, where Ash had his first taste of tamales and was instantly enchanted by their rich flavours,” Maribel explained.

Surprised that such a delicious dish wasn’t more widely known, the idea to introduce tamales to Singapore was born. However, this idea remained dormant for a while until a pivotal moment sparked its revival for the couple.

Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos

In 2019, during Maribel’s pregnancy with her second daughter, she found herself craving the authentic taste of tamales that she had grown up with. Her mom and grandmother had run a tamales shop and later a restaurant, so she literally grew up with the dish.

“When my mum visited that year, she lovingly prepared tamales for me, reigniting my passion for this beloved dish and fulfilling my craving,” Maribel recalled.

Sharing these tamales with her friends, who loved the food, the couple decided to make good on their business idea, establishing Tamales Mexicanos in 2019 to serve authentic, halal tamales in Singapore.

From home-based to brick-and-mortar

Beyond being the chef at Tamales Mexicanos, though, Maribel also sports a robust background. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in foreign Trade and Logistics from Mexico, she has accumulated experience across diverse industries such as automotive, petrochemicals, and education.

Moreover, Maribel has even authored and co-authored eight books, four of which became bestsellers.

Today, though, Tamales Mexicanos has become Maribel and Ash’s full-time commitment. More than a business, they see it as a labour of love and a testament to their commitment to sharing the authentic flavours of Mexico with Singapore.

Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos

“When we started, we both had full-time jobs. It was only in 2024 that both of us decided to leave our jobs, and go all in,” Maribel detailed.

Starting out, the business had first been called Tamales Mexicanos en Singapur, but was rebranded January this year. This coincided with the launch of their first physical location, tucked in Purple Agave, the cocktail bar on Keong Saik Road.  

Explaining the decision to open a physical outlet, Maribel explained, “While running Tamales Mexicanos en Singapur from the comfort of stable paycheques provided a sense of security, we knew that true growth lay in expanding beyond our current setup.”

Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos

Last year, the duo had started dipping their toes into operating a physical location by participating in various weekend food fairs and ticketed brunch events.

“Seeing the eyes of our fellow Singaporeans light up upon taking their first bite of tamales was encouraging and exciting,” Maribel expressed.

During these experiences, the couple also learnt to streamline their operations, making them more efficient in preparing and serving customers.

But just as importantly, these events helped them network with fellow entrepreneurs, which was how they found a home in Purple Agave.

Believing that they’ve garnered enough experience in 2023, Maribel and Ash felt emboldened to take the leap to set up a permanent shop.

From tamales to all sorts of dishes

In addition to signature tamales, the Tamales Mexicanos menu features an array of classic Mexican dishes, including quesadillas, tortas, guacamole, and desserts like churros and carlotas.

The team has also created unique tamales to commemorate special dates, like the Rendang Tamales and the Duck Pipian Tamales.

They also offer tamales served in bento boxes, believing that this localised concept would appeal to locals.

“We study the menu of Mexican restaurants in Singapore and Mexico and try to fill in the market gaps,” Maribel pointed out.

Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos

But ultimately, what sets Tamales Mexicanos apart from other Mexican F&B establishments on the island is their unique focus on tamales.

Maribel even claimed that they are likely the first-ever restaurant to specialise in tamales in the whole of Asia.

“Despite tamales being a beloved staple in Mexico and Latin America, they remain barely known in Asia,” the founder stated.

She added that ever since she arrived on Singaporean shores, people around her often expressed their love for burritos (which is a dish she herself has never actually eaten in Mexico). However, when it came to tamales, barely anyone knew what they were.

“I realised then that tamales are like a best-kept secret that needed to be shared with this part of the world,” she mused.

And that’s exactly what Tamales Mexicanos has been doing, and aims to continue to do.   

From Mexico to Singapore

At first, the main audience for Tamales Mexicanos had comprised Mexicans and the Latino community in Singapore, which later expanded to include other expatriates.

Today, Maribel is proud to share that they welcome a diverse mix of individuals, including locals.

Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos

In addition to serving individual customers, they cater to large volume orders for corporate events, parties, and gifting occasions.

They’ve worked with renowned institutions such as the Asian Civilization Museum, Singapore American School, Food for Thought @ National Gallery, and more. They also actively participate in community events, such as the Latinada 2024.  

Still, despite the work that has been done, Maribel believes that there’s still a significant need for education to raise awareness about tamales and authentic Mexican cuisine in Singapore.

“For far too long, the perception of Mexican food has been largely shaped by the United States,” she asserted. “I believe it’s time for Mexicans to reclaim the narrative and showcase the diversity and authenticity of our culinary traditions.”

  • Learn more about Tamales Mexicanos here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: Tamales Mexicanos / xsaltire (via Instagram)

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