Ah, the tamal, that wonderful scrumptious delicacy that is commonly prepared during Christmas, fiestas and holidays were once called Utah by the Mayans. Tamales date all the way back to the early 8000 B.C. pre-colombian history and are credited to the Mayan and Aztec civilization. As the story goes, tamales were invented from the need to have portable, yet nourishing food for the warriors of pre-colombian civilizations. This wonderful creation is part of nearly all of the cultures in Latin America reflecting the diversity and richness of our cultures.
Read on and be mesmerized by this delightful dish, but, fair warning, you might get hungry by the end of this article.
The Nacatamal is from Nicaraguas and Honduras, it’s made out of masa wrapped in a banana leaf in a square shape. It comes with a variety of fillings, from potatoes, chicken, pork or bell peppers.
Tamal de Chipilin is often found in Guatemala and is prepared with the same ingredients as many Central American tamales: potatoes, masa, chilies, olives, chicken or pork. Unique to this tamal, is the addition of “chipilin” which is a green leaf legume native to Central America and Mexico.
The Humita hails from South America! In Peru, they are wrapped in corn husks and prepared with corn, lard, salt, and queso fresco (fresh cheese), but when the Peruvians are craving for something sweet, they replace these ingredients with sugar, raisins and cinnamon. Similar to Argentina, they are also prepared the same way as in Peru, but with onions. Cheese is also added but they are traditionally made with goat cheese instead of queso fresco.
Hallacas come from Venezuela, they are made differently not from region to region but from family to family. Despite the fact that each family makes them differently they do have some common ingredients, such as: made from corn dough, stew, meats (pork rind, beef, poultry, pork rind or lard), raisins and olives.
Mexican Tamales: are from, as you may already know by the name, Mexico! Different regions in Mexico have their own distinct tamale, but they retain common tamal ingredients (masa, vegetables, meat or chicken). In Michocoan they are called corrudas and are triangle shaped.
Yucatan calls their tamales, vaporcitos, which are eaten with salsa on the outside.”Vaporcitos” means evaporation in English, doesn’t the name seem to suit it so well? I’m sure that once your taste buds try one of these babies they sure do evaporate in your mouth!
In the northwest of Mexico a large tamal named zacahuiles lives, they measure 3-5 foots tall! Zacahuiles are created with corn that is coarsely grounded and stuffed with the same stuffing as any other tamal. To differentiate from the other tamales, these large tamales are commonly cooked in an ovens instead of being boiled. If you are planning a large sleepover with you amigas, then the zacahuiles is definitely your tamal.
Last, but certainly not least, the tamal from Qaxaca, Mexico! There are a variety of tamales in Qaxaca Mexico, from Rajas ( tamales with tomato and chili strips),tamales de frijol (tamales stuffed with beans) to sweet tamales (corn and sugar tamales).
This one here is called mole negro tamale, it’s made with mole, as the name indicates, and is also stuffed with turkey and is wrapped in banana leafs.
Tamales are usually categorized to be holiday food because they have the reputation for being labor intensive, but don’t let that reputation shy you away from creating them. Maybe the next time abuelita is in town, or maybe with your mamá or tía, you can create this Latin American delicacy and maybe try a new tamal you had never tried before!
There is great diversity in our tamales and with the great variety of tamales there are out there you’ll never get bored! There is always something new to try or maybe you can make your very own “unique” tamal. Whether you are from Peru, Guatemala or Mexico, do not hesitate to try other tamales, your taste buds will thank you for it.