LOS ANGELES is an intricate maze of freeways and streets that wind through skyscrapers, businesses, and back alleys, and it is a land where the speech of its people has become laid back while their actions and motivations are fast paced. For me, the flurry that Los Angeles emits is home. Home, for a lot of people, comes with traditions and values that we grow up around. No event comes with more tradition for my family than Christmas. And when Christmas comes, so do the pile of tamales.
Located off Sunset Blvd and Echo Park Ave., Celaya Bakery is a hole in the wall if you ever saw one. If you aren’t looking for the bakery, you may miss it. Celaya is one of only a cluster of stores and shops squeezed together on a city block. The owners tease the public by proudly displaying their freshly baked bolios (fresh baked Mexican bread) in their giant bay windows, drawing in customers of all kinds at all times of the days. The crisp bread that is taken from the oven and transported to the display case produces a symphony of sounds when an individual rips off a piece and hears the rhythmic crackle released by tiny breadcrumbs. On several other shelves line the sweet pan dulce, sugar coated with every color on the pastel rainbow. Wandering around the floors of Celaya Bakery is like wandering around the aisles of a candy factory. There is a surprise in every corner.
For my family, going to Celaya Bakery is a tradition every Christmas holiday. My mother went to grammar and middle school with the owner’s daughter and my mother tells me that little has changed to the bakery after forty years. "Not much has changed over the years other than a few re-paintings here and there," Martha Flores, 50, proud mother of this here author, states. "My parents used to own a restaurant and Celaya was our provider [for bread]. It wasn't until seventh grade when I found out I went to school with the owners' daughter."
Christmas is Celaya’s busiest time of the year and their reputation of flawless tamales precedes them. My mother places her nine dozen-tamale order three weeks in advance: three-dozen pork, three-dozen chickens and chili, and three-dozen cheese. For those arriving to the bakery days before Christmas are turned down because the demand for these delicious treats is through the roof. Taking a bite into any flavor will send your taste buds into frenzy, dancing wildly over the kick of spices found within the recipe. The sugary sweetness of candied bread combined with the perfect fluff of their bolios leaves your mouth wanting more. The bread can be nicely washed down with a glass of milk or better yet, their homemade champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate). The goal of the bakers is to leave their customer’s mouth watering and it is a goal they achieve every day.
We then package these tamales into separate gift baskets to give to friends and family, a tradition we’ve done for years. Our family has become affiliated with tamales during the winter and with every delivery to a friend or relative comes the opportunity to reconnect with those we love and haven’t seen.
For my family, bringing these tamales isn’t done for the purpose of delivering a delicious delicacy. For my family, delivering the tamales is like delivering a slice of home and for those familiar with Hispanic traditions; opening up our home is common. During the holidays, we wish to bring the warm feelings of home to those we cherish deeply. "Celaya Bakery has been run and operated by the same family for years and you really feel like you're apart of that atmosphere when you walk in," Martha Flores explains. Home is where the heart is and my heart belongs to Los Angeles. It is small businesses like Celaya Bakery that have occupied the city for half a century and continue to please its customers daily that I am proud to call myself a native.
-- Michael Flores
photo credit: James H., Yelp