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Mario Lopez: Tamales Tradition

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At the annual Lopez family Christmas dinner, there’s hardly an inch of space on the dining room table, thanks to two hams, one turkey, Spanish rice, mashed potatoes and Grandma Rosario’s specialty—chili pork tamales. “We bring the two cultures together” on the table, says Mario Lopez, 36, who calls the Mexican delicacies “my favorite tradition” of the holidays. Two days before Christmas, the Lopez ladies—including Mario’s mom, Elvia, and sister Marissa—form an assembly line at the kitchen counter of Grandma Rosario’s Chula Vista, Calif., home and prepare no less than 200 tamales that they feed to about 60 family members and friends. The Extra host polishes off at least a dozen on his own. “I don’t help with making them,” he admits. “But I definitely help with the eating!”