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Sep 19, 2006 03:18 PM

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!