The holiday rush for tamales at Los Angeles' Mexican bakeries is a well-known fact of life, as is the annual abundance of local holiday tamales stories.
But there's more keeping these bakeries busy this time of year. What else are they selling out of?
“The champurrado," said Cristina Benavides of the Sonora Bakery in East L.A about the warm Mexican drink. "That is the one we sell out on. We do that only for the winter, and it sells out.”
As the days grow colder, the thick, hot, chocolatey drink draws customers in the door at this and and other local bakeries. Some, like Panaderia Delicia in Highland Park, specialize in other holiday treats. They've been taking orders for tamales, of course, but they're also taking orders for their second-most-popular item: Galletas navidenas, Christmas cookies.
They're not the fancy sort of pastries that might be found in the neighborhood's newer eateries, but rather old-fashioned, Christmas tree-shaped cookies with green sugar crystals and red icing. Fidela Salgado, who mans the register at the Figueroa Street bake shop, said customers order them several dozen at a time for school events and parties.
Still, tamales are the bakery's mainstay. Salgado says they've had to stop taking orders for them because they're so busy.
Some bakeries stay focused on their best-selling item. "Like two or three weeks in advance, people already start, 'Oh, are you guys already making tamales?'" said Carina Rivera of the six-outlet El Pavo bakery based in San Gabriel. The bakery chain makes tamales year-round, but sees orders triple around the holidays. Some customers order as many as eight or nine dozen.
Rivera said other items here or there might sell a bit more briskly over the holidays, but it's the tamales that people want.
And after Christmas, the rush will be far from over: that’s when bakeries start hustling to meet demand for rosca de reyes, the traditional cake served on Three Kings Day, Jan. 6.