Under the Sun

How Ana Regalado Made TikTok Tasty

Ana Regalado is teaching tamales on TikTok.
Ana Regalado is teaching tamales on TikTok. A. Regalado

Ana Regalado gets friendly emails from strangers all the time these days. People stop her in the street, just to say nice things.

“We took our kids out of town last week,” she said during a phone call from her home in Maricopa earlier this month, “and people were coming up to me and telling me they loved my videos. It’s been amazing.”

Her life has been like that ever since her TikTok account blew up late last year. There, she offers cooking tutorials that teach everything from how to make homemade flour tortillas to tamale preparation, as well as simpler dishes like the one she calls “Lazy Enchiladas.” Sometimes she likes to mix things up; lately, she's tried Chinese and Italian dishes on-camera. “I’ve lived in the U.S. so long,” she said, “I know how to make a lot of different kinds of food.”

Since posting her first video early last year, Regalado’s channel has logged more than 2 million views. When she became one of 15 creators included on last month’s Latinx TikTok Trailblazers list, things really got crazy.

She didn't set out to get famous. But after the Covid pandemic got rolling, she found herself trapped at home with a lot of time on her hands.

“My kids introduced me to TikTok and showed me videos of cute cats, and I was watching them and thinking, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’ But when I started doing my own, it was food ones. Recipes, like that. That’s how I started Salty Cocina, to focus on the food.”

She’d always liked to cook, but never had much time to. “I was either going to school or I had two jobs, or I was taking care of my family,” said Regalado, who came to Arizona from Mexico when she was 7. “But the pandemic sort of changed all that.”

Regalado was thinking about her own mortality when she began making videos of herself cooking the traditional Mexican dishes her mother and grandmother had handed down to her. The pandemic had her spooked, she confessed.

“With everything that was happening in the world with the Covid, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” she explained. “So at first I was really just making these videos because I thought, ‘I might as well get these recipes down, with steps you can follow, in case I’m not here anymore to share them with my kids.’”

When her husband is available, Regalado said, he runs the camera. Most of the time, she does the filming and the on-screen cooking herself. “It’s a challenge to do both things at once. I have to stop between steps, so a dish that might take 30 minutes to do takes two or three hours because of all the pausing and like that.”

She thinks of cooking as an art and was happy when viewers wrote to say they’d changed her recipes.

“Like when you make a painting, there’s no one way to make a dish. You can add ingredients or take things out. You’re adding your own personality to the food when you change it.”

Regalado likes that strangers were learning how to prepare ethnic food she’d made all her life. “That’s the beautiful thing about social media,” she said. “Not just my kids are benefiting from my videos, but anyone out there. A long time ago, you would have written these recipes down, but you were only sharing them with the person you handed them to. Now my kids can see me making the food long after I’m gone. I wish I had my grandma on video, making tamales and whatever.”

Despite her new popularity, Regalado doesn't think of herself as much of a performer. “I’m the type who’s really shy,” she said. “I don’t open up a lot. If you’d asked me a year ago if I wanted to do my own cooking show, I would have thought you were crazy.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela