friday feast: tamalitos: un poema para cocinar/a cooking poem by jorge argueta and domi

tamalitos cover

First there was a warm, comforting bowl of  Sopa de frijoles (Bean Soup), followed by creamy dreamy Arroz con leche (Rice Pudding), then a savory batch of Guacamole so delicious you danced around the kitchen with a “green avocado laugh” printed on your face.

Sí, Amigos! It’s time to celebrate the fourth delectable book in Jorge Argueta’s bilingual Cooking Poem series, Tamalitos, illustrated by Domi (Groundwood Books, 2013). Estupendo!!

jorge and cooking poems
Poet Chef Jorge Argueta

Most of you already know how much I adore these books, written by a poet who sees magic in each ingredient and every utensil and says, “the whole kitchen is a cooking poem.” *swoon*

argueta two
(click to enlarge)

This time we read about a brother and sister making tamalitos, or “little tamales.” I want to hug myself just thinking about these mini corn masa and cheese-stuffed pillows wrapped in cornhusks (little pillows! a lot like dumplings!). As with the other cooking poems, there is reverence for Mother Earth, a lively, joyous total immersion in every step of the process, lots of sensory detail, and great anticipation at eating the final product and lovingly sharing it with the rest of the family.

Tamalitos begins with an homage to the corn plant — what it looks like, an appreciation of its many-colored kernels (“white, yellow, blue ones, purple, red and black ones/like a rainbow when it’s drizzling”) and a nod to its centuries-long cultural importance for the Mayans and other indigenous ancestors of Central America.

tamalitos one (2)500
Gorgeous watercolors by Mexican artist Domi, copyright © 2013.

Cooking utensils and recipe ingredients are then gathered, corn husks are soaked, the dough is mixed and kneaded, pieces of cheese are added, and finally the little dough pillows are wrapped and steamed. All the while, there is drumming on pots and happy dancing (“the Nahua corn dance/and the Maya corn dance/and the Aztec dance/and the powwow dance/and the corn dance/of all the people of corn”), reminding us that cooking is so much more than just combining ingredients; it’s an activity that should be entered into with heart and soul to achieve the most satisfying results:

Measure four cups of flour
Add the lukewarm water,
little by little
When the water and flour are mixed, you have masa.
Stick your hands in the dough.
Move your hands
and your arms
and your whole body.
Feel the dough,
squeeze it,
stir it,
squish it,
knead it.

Let your fingers
dance the corn dance
while you knead the dough.


Mide con cuidado cuatro tazas de masa seca.
Ahora echa el agüta tibia sobre la masa seca,
poco a poquito.
Al mezclar el agua con la harina tienes masa.
Mete tus manos en la masa.
Menea tus manos
y tus brazos
y tu cuerpo.
Siente la masa,

Deja que tus dedos
bailen la danza del maíz
mientras amasas la masa.

argueta four (2)500

Argueta’s rainbow of corn colors is amplified in every one of Domi’s vibrant, eye-popping watercolor spreads, ensuring that Tamalitos is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the other senses. Argueta’s simple poetic language is always delightfully fresh and oh-so-lyrical with its playful childlike rhythm. I always enjoy reading the Spanish aloud, too:

The kitchen is a field of corn in flower.
There are flowers and clouds of corn,
the wind is corn,
the fire is corn.
I am dancing the dance of corn.
The smell of corn makes me fly.
I am singing the song of corn.
I am a corn cook.
The smell of corn makes me happy.
These tamalitos will be happy corn tamalitos!


La cocina es una milpa en flor.
Hay flores y nubes de maíz,
el viento es maíz,
el fuego es maíz.
Estoy bailando la danza del maíz.
El olor del maíz me hace volar.
Estoy cantando el canto del maíz.
Soy un cocinero de maíz.
El olor del maíz me vuelve más feliz.
¡Estos tamalitos serán tamalitos de maíz feliz!

argueta three (2)500

It’s such a pleasure to celebrate the poetry of food with someone like Jorge, who feels that “everything in the kitchen is pure poetry — sounds, smells, shapes, colors, forms.” With Tamalitos, he again lifts our spirits, whets our appetites, and serves up a totally satisfying recipe of masa and metaphor. A perfectly scrumptious choice for Poetry Month in April!

You are ready to relish the tamalitos.
You’ll see some steam
float off the tamalitos like a little sigh.

Todo está listo
para saborear los tamalitos.
Verás el vapor saliendo de los tamalitos,
como un suspiro.

photo via Libro de Recetas

Mmmmmmm. Muy delicioso!

* * *

tamalitos coverTAMALITOS: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem
written by Jorge Argueta
illustrated by Domi
translated by Elisa Amado
published by Groundwood Books, 2013
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
*A Junior Library Guild Selection
On shelves: April 2013

* * *

♥ My review of Guacamole and interview with Jorge is here.

♥ My review of Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding is here.

♥ Learn more about Jorge’s wonderful books at his Official Website. Collect all four Cooking Poem books — you know you want to :)!

Ribbet collage argueta oneRibbet collage argueta two

* * *

poetryfriday180Jone is hosting today’s Roundup at Check It Out.  Enjoy the full menu of delicious poetic offerings being served up in the blogosphere this week and enjoy your weekend!

* * *

weekend cooking button (2)180This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts!


*Spreads from Tamalitos posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2013 Jorge Argueta, illustrations © 2013 Domi, English translation © 2013 Elisa Amado, published by Groundwood Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

59 thoughts on “friday feast: tamalitos: un poema para cocinar/a cooking poem by jorge argueta and domi

  1. Delectable poems with mouth-watering illustrations! I love the bi-lingual aspect as well. Thanks for highlighting these fantastic books.


  2. Oh – that cover made me want to dance even before I read the selections you chose, Jama. What gorgeous art! And what delicious writing. This seems to be the perfect blend of reverence, play, and YUM. My stomach literally growled when reading this post. Congrats to Jorge on another winning title!


    1. Definitely all the right ingredients combined to make another fabulous installment in the series. This one in particular has the market cornered on the joy of cooking. 🙂


  3. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tamalito! It looks like all the books in the series have different illustrators. How interesting to get a fresh take each time! I think my favorite of these illustrations is the one of the children kneading the dough.


    1. Yes, four different illustrators — all good choices. My fave illustration is the last one in this post — floating in the air with colorful clouds and corn — it seems to capture the essence and spirit of this book.


  4. What a gorgeous book. I love the watercolor images paired with the poems — so much life and joy in the food and in the pictures. It’s very cool that each book in this series has a different illustrator. Four different views of Latino culture.


  5. “I want to hug myself just thinking about these mini corn masa and cheese-stuffed pillows wrapped in cornhusks”

    I wanted to hug you too when I read that line. 🙂 Great review of a wonderful book!


  6. I would buy these books just for the illustrations. Add the kitchen poetry and the food … well, I too am swooning. I had forgotten about these books (which I learned about through you!) — it’s time I had my own copies.


  7. Oh, man…you’re making me hungry!! (And that’s different from other weeks…how???) 🙂


  8. The illustrations are so beautiful, would be wonderful to have a few framed for the kitchen! These books are wonderful, Jama. Love “The kitchen is a field of corn in flower.” I can think of a number of people who will love the book!


    1. You’re right — framed illustrations would really cheer up any kitchen. This is my first experience with Domi — I need to look for more of her work.


  9. How nice! They look like beautiful books. One of my favorite books to read to my kids when they were little was Abuela by Arthur Dorros. The illustrations reminded me of it a little, mostly the bright colors, probably.


  10. Hi Jama,

    What a delightful collection of books, even though I don’t have any children, or know any which are still in that age group, I can appreciate them on so many levels.

    The fact that they are bilingual, the recipes are explained in a way that children can understand for themselves, the poetry offers a welcoming structure to page to help hold the interest of a child and last but not least those amazing, eye-catching illustrations which help to explain the written story.

    An invaluable collection of children’s books and an interesting post, thank you.



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