The Delta Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville, Mississippi is quickly becoming the state’s best, don’t-miss food event.

Zoë Gowen

1. They are distinctly different from their slightly better known, but no more delicious kin, the Texas Tamale. The Delta Hot Tamale is made with ground corn meal not masa. It’s smaller, spicier, and simmered in water rather than steamed.  

2. Greenville, Mississippi is not just the de facto Hot Tamale Capital of the World. It’s officially registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Accordingly, on the second Saturday of every October they host the Delta Hot Tamale Festival where they crown a king and queen, host a parade, have a celebrity chef tamale cook off, feature bands, line the street with tamale vendors, and—of course—there’s a Hot Tamale eat-off. This year, the winner ate 27 in under 5 minutes. Don’t forget—these are spicy.

3. Insiders know that the Hot Tamale Festival actually begins on the Thursday night before Saturday’s tamale-everything street fair. Greenville’s ambassador-to-the-world, Julia Reed, hosts an elaborate kick-off dinner on Thursday in a varying, but always knock-your-socks-off fabulous location. On Friday, stick around to hear a who’s-who of Southern writers, artists, and chefs debate uniquely Southern, slightly absurd topics in the Literary and Culinary Mashup.

4. Book your hotel rooms early. The whole city sells out by early September. The best place to stay? The Greenville Inn & Suites. If you can’t get in there, try the Hampton Inn or the Holiday Inn Express. Okay with staying in hostels? Try the Rodeway Inn—it’s convenient to the bars.

5. Speaking of bars, the two best in town are on Walnut Street. Duck into the very dim (in a fantastically dive-bar way) Southern Nights for a drink and then go next door to the blues bar for live music. You don’t need to know the name of the blues bar in order to find it; you’ll hear the music.

6. It’s hard to beat a plain Delta Hot Tamale, but there are several scrumptious variations that you’ll see in Greenville—topped with chili, baked into a pie, fried to a touch of crunchiness. Do abandon your diet, but not your antacids and try everything.

7. If you hit your tamale quota, have lunch at Jim’s Café on Washington Street and most definitely make a reservation for dinner at Doe’s Eat Place—where you walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room. Their menu is simple and hits-all-the-right-spots: garlic bread, iceberg salad, four different cuts of steak, shrimp (fried or broiled), French fries, and of course, tamales. It’s BYOB so run through Main Street Liquors on the way.

8. Make time to explore. Greenville is a little off the beaten path, but all along the roads you’ll be intrigued by curiosities like abandoned farm houses, regally restored antebellum mansions, old shacks, crumbling cemeteries, roadside gas stations, and historical marker after historical marker signifying an impactful moments in Southern music or civil rights. The small town names (Nitta Yuma, Panther Burn, and Money to name a few) are enough to keep you going. Head west to Greenwood, up to Clarksdale and over to Oxford one day. Or go south to Vicksburg and then on to Natchez.