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The tamale thread

I think that this is one of the most incredible foods out there. I am particularly fond of the history of its origins. It is said that the tamal began as a 'food-on-the-go' for the warriors of pre-columbian Mesoamerica.

For me, it is pretty interesting to imagine the Aztec women making these before a battle and rationing them out to there male conterparts with their elaborate headdresses and obsedian sword-like weapons.

I enjoy all kinds but I was wondering if anyone has tried other versions from other latin american countries and what they were like.

I think the most unusual I have tried was a Pastele from Puerto Rico. Has anyone made these?

But by far, the king of all Tamales in my opinion has to be the Oaxacan Tamales de Mole Negro.

I believe Rworange had a thread awhile back about a giant tamale encasing a whole roast called a 'zacahuil.'

I read about a shrimp tamale from Sinoloa that has the entire shrimp whiskers and all enclosed. ANd even some utilizing various strains of maize.

What has your experience with Tamales been?

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  1. Only ones I have had are the standard beef,pork and chicken as well as bean tamales,and some fresh corn tamales I made myself.
    We don't really see in the stores the more exotic ones.And most of the mex-americans i know,the family makes mainly pork or the regular flavours,and sometimes the sweet tamales but that's it.

    1. Hope this is not seen as being obnoxious, but the singular is: tamal (the plural: tamales)
      Aside from that, one of the most interesting tamales I've tasted was in a small town in the Dominican Republic, where they make tamales from mashed plantains, filled with a well-seasoned picadillo - so delicious!
      What's in the pastele from Puerto Rico that you mention?
      In Central America, there are tamales made from (dried corn) masa that have a filling of vegs. with pork or chicken(+sauce made from toasted seeds and vegs, then ground up), wrapped in banana leaves and fresh corn tamales (tamal de elote) wrapped in corn husks, sometimes these may be stuffed with a bit of refried red beans-delicious!
      We all have our opinion of what the 'best' tamal is, it depends of what we were exposed to, or what we grew up with! I think I like them all!!

      1. Colombian tamales are steamed in banana leaves and are large, slightly mushy with cubed vegetables and pieces of chicken on the bone. Not a favorite, although and of course, Colombians like them. On trips to Mexico, Miami, or LA--I have to bring back corn flour and dried husks to make my own. The best tamales come from the early morning market and plaza vendors in and around Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

        1. In my indiscrete youth:


          Since then I have only tried to make then once, and my dough was too thick, and it's all about the dough. Fortunately they are available in local mexican markets.

          I'd love to see a successful recipe with dough techniques.

          1. With respect to the comment on the Colombian tamales, there are actually several versions. I'm not fond of the ones from Bogota and environs, which tend to be on the dry side and sort of the size, shape and weight of a large softball. But the tamales from Santander and environs are wonderful--masa stuffed with seasoned pot roast or chicken, green olives, and carrots, wrapped in a rectangle of a banana leaf. Venezuelan tamales I've had are similar to the ones from Santander.

            One of the most amazing Colombian tamales I've ever eaten was a "bulto", a tamal made with fresh corn, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in a fresh corn husk, and cooked on an open-air hearth. I had my first bulto in a small, rustic ranch in the mountains several hours from Bogota. To get there, we took a bus to one town, then a jeep to another (too steep for a bus), then walked for two hours up the cobblestone steps cut into the mountainside with coffee fields flanking both sides. The elderly lady of the ranch house prepared us a meal on her comal--an open-air stove made of rocks. There was no electricity or running water in their home. She served freshly-picked and ground coffee brewed with fresh milk from her cow with the bultos. It was a delicious and absolutely extraordinary experience. Unfortunately I developed dysentary as a result, but as I've lived to tell the tale and relish the memory, I don't think I would have refused her humble but delicious offerings even knowing what I know now!

            1. I've lived in Colombia for 13 years and previously in the Philippines for 14. Both countries are the worst food-wise in their respective continents (albeit apologies to the great bulto tale). Has helped my own cooking enormously.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I agree that Colombian cuisine is not the world's finest, but I do love a well-prepared arepa oozing with cheese, or a crispy, savory beef empanada made with corn dough, or (like I said) a fresh corn bulto. . . .

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  "Has helped my own cooking enormously."

                  Such good guarded chutzpah.

                  Later he'd talk of the hike to his house
                  and also the enveloping
                  of his spacious refrigerator.

                2. For me it is all about the dough cuz the smell as you unwrap is that unique corny thing. My first experience w/ road side ones was outside of Ensenada, Mexico on the way to La Bufadora 20 years ago. Ladies w/ their giant steamers on the side of the road selling tamales along w/ locally cured olives, olive oil. So of course they were tiny corn husk wrapped packets with one or 2 intensely flavored whole olives in them (ie: don't choke on the pit)- but they were good! Had a very similar tamale from street vendors in Puerta Vallarta around same time except the tiny nugget was a small piece of chicken on the bone. I have access to great masa in all stages of prep where I live and have made some great ones- but these are my hallmark- and they did not even offer a sauce/ salsa- it was all about the perfumed corn product.

                  1. The corundas of Patzcuaro, Mexico are quite lovely. They are larger - about the size of a woman's fist - and triangluar in shape. They can be filled with just about anything, but one of the most common fillings is doble creme (double cream). Michaocan, where Patzcuaro is located, is very much a dairy state and the doble crema is a very thick, very rich, concentrated form of crema. It's sort of like a cross between sour cream and cream cheese, without the sour tang.

                    Along with the doble crema, the corundas also contain rajas, strips of charred and smokey roasted chile. The masa triangle is wrapped in corn leaves and steamed. To serve it is unwrapped, placed in a bowl and a thin, yellow salsa made from chile peron is ladled over along with more crema. Add a mug of cinnamon or choclate atole and it's just about the perfect breakfast. Can be found anytime in front of the basilica in Patzcuaro.

                    I have not seen corundas in the U.S., though I suspect I could find them in L.A. if I tried.

                    The other tamal specialty from Michoacan are uchepos, small fresh corn masa packets, usually with no filling and usually offered as a starch accompaniment at a meal. These are pretty good too, and I have found these in the U.S., but not quite as well done as at the source.

                    1. During a trip to Vegas one year, we took a side trip to Indio for the International Tamale Festival:


                      It was worth going two hours out of way, to eat six tamales each!

                      1. It's been my experience that every Hispanic or partially Hispanic person who grew up eating their family's tamales vastly prefers that specific variety to those of other families, as each family makes them completely differently (myself included.) My father's family makes them with freshly ground pork butts, and honestly, I have never had any tamale that I like more than ours.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: linlinchan

                          Not me... I grew up with your traditional Jalisco tamales (Chile Colorado, Raisin/Piloncillo etc.,)... but I gravitate to other traditions, particularly:

                          Michoacan (Uchepos, Corundas)
                          Veracruz (Tamalon, Zacahuil)
                          Oaxaca (Vegetables in Mole Verde, Turkey in Mole Negro)
                          Puebla (Rajas Poblanas, Pipian Verde)


                        2. A few blocks from my house is a mini-mart neighborhood store selling the usual soda, beer, cigarettes, candy, some food staples. The owners are Mexican-American, so the stock of the store skews Hispanic, especially in the pantry items and some really good Paleta's in the frozen treats cooler.

                          On Saturday's, the owners mom brings in 2 huge steamer pots, each filled with fresh homemade tamales. A red pork filling, spicy cheese, or green chili are the usual choices. I get one of each, and can't wait to get home and open the steamy package of corn husks and smell the great masa. Tender and lightly spicy, they are delicious with a bit of homemade guacamole (mine), and hot sauce (bottled).
                          Best neighborhood lunch by far! oh, and they are $1 each.:)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: gingershelley

                            my neighborhood is the same, and the closest store to me sells mexican and salvadoran tamales (run by an Asian family.) the salvadoran ones are my favorite, much softer, moister masa, not as dry as i find most mexican tamales. they're wonderful with a little crema and some habanero hot sauce.

                            my favorite tho are Nacatamales, from Nicaragua (also in my neighborhood). they're huge, and much more substantial then regular tamales. they're filled with pork, potatoes, rice, olives, onions, and cilantro and/or mint. one makes a meal and then some.


                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              I want a Nacatamales, MC! Wow, those sound good!

                          2. In Mazatlan we were served dessert tamales that had pineapple inside. They were great.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: pdxgastro

                              If you think tamales de piña (pineapple) are great, you should try tamales de zarza (blackberry), really great :-)

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                Ooh, they do sound good. Do I have to go back to Mexico to try them?

                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  Perhaps. I'm in San Diego and have never seen them here. But SD is not a tamal type of town, our Mexican options are woefully limited and blackberries obscenely expensive most of the time.

                                  Your neck of the woods may be different. I'm assuming the PDX in your name refers to Portland? You may have better luck in your area.

                                  I really like sweet tamales. Pineapple is really good. So is strawberry, and the combination of piloncillo and raisins is also really good. The possibilities are almost limitless :-)

                            2. somewhere up above someone asked about pasteles, a puerto rican tamale. it is made with a banana rather than corn masa and is fairly popular in hawaii, although not easy to find these days.


                              1. I am fortunate that Milwaukee has a large and vibrant Mexican community, and there are several places in town where I can get fresh tamales. I especially enjoy getting the fruit-filled ones to have either for breakfast or dessert.

                                But just this weekend I had some portabella mushroom tamales that I got from a vendor at a farmer's market--WONDERFUL!

                                1. Sixty-odd years ago in Decatur, Illinois, there was the Tamale Man. Presumably Mexican, he had an insulated box between the two front wheels of a converted bicycle, and he would pedal this all over the fairly small city (about 50,000 at the time). His tamales were all beef, I think, the only ones I'd ever eaten, and they were delightful.

                                  One day we had scheduled a family picnic, Mom and the three of us plus Grandpa and Grandma Kuntz. But when we got to the lakeside park it was grey and cold, and spitting occasional drops of rain, and even in the shelter of a pavilion cold chicken, potato salad and iced fruit punch was not as appealing as usual. We also seemed to be the only people in the park. We had just about decided to pack up and leave, when the ring of a bicycle bell was heard, and here came the Tamale Man pedalling through the almost-empty parking lot! I remember it almost as something from a Fellini or Antonioni movie. Grandpa and I dashed down the hill, and I think we cleaned the guy out, bringing back something like three or four tamales each. Grandma had never had any before, not being at all an adventurous eater, but though she ate hers on a plate she thought they went very well with potato salad and said so.

                                  I'm not a big fan of the green corn ones Mrs. O is so crazy about, but I adore most meat ones and the green chiles/cheese kind. There used to be a family on our block who would do a big open-house tamale party every Christmas season, with the wife and a couple of her sisters presiding over the steamers and half the neighborhood kids (and some adults as well) helping with the construction part. If my kitchen were a bit bigger …

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      that tamale man was was my great uncle , and no he was not mexican . sorry I don't have the recipe , I just ran into some one who said hes aunts sister had the recipe ,but she want give it up ! thats what made me think about looking for it on the net .

                                    2. I've made quite a few batches in my life - some traditional, some not. One of our favorites is to make the dough (we can't get good fresh masa here, so using masa harina) with unsalted butter and fresh corn kernals, then fill with Monterey Jack and roasted poblanos. Not authentic, but yum.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        With great tamales, life's a batch!