|Place of origin||Mesoamerica (probably from modern-day Mexico)|
|Region or state||Americas|
|Main ingredients||Corn (maize) masa, banana leaves|
|Similar dishes||Humitas, pamonha|
A tamale (Spanish : tamal, Nahuatl languages : tamalli) is a traditional Mesoamerican dish, probably from modern-day Mexico, made of masa or dough (starchy, and usually corn-based), which is steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The wrapping can either be discarded prior to eating, or be used as a plate, the tamale eaten from within. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.
Spanish or Castilian, is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and today has over 450 million native speakers in Spain and the Americas. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.
Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.
Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.
Tamale comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli (meaning "wrapped")via Spanish where the singular is tamal and the plural tamales. The word tamale is a back-formation of tamales, with English speakers assuming the singular was tamale and the plural tamales.
In etymology, back-formation is the process of creating a new lexeme by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray in 1889.
Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC.
The preparation of tamales is likely to have spread from the indigenous culture in Mexico and Guatemala to the rest of Latin America. According to archaeologists Karl Taube, William Saturn and David Stuart, tamales may date from the year 100 AD. They found pictorial references in the Mural of San Bartolo, in Petén, Guatemala.
The Aztec and Maya civilizations, as well as the Olmec and Toltec before them, used tamales as easily portable food, for hunting trips, and for traveling large distances, as well as supporting their armies.Tamales were also considered sacred as it is the food of the gods. Aztec, Maya, Olmeca, and Tolteca all considered themselves to be people of corn and so tamales played a large part in their rituals and festivals.
The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain. The overarching term "Maya" is a modern collective term that refers to the peoples of the region, however, the term was not used by the indigenous populations themselves since there never was a common sense of identity or political unity among the distinct populations.
The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology. The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tōllān[ˈtoːlːaːn] as the epitome of civilization; in the Nahuatl language the word Tōltēcatl[toːlˈteːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or Tōltēcah[toːlˈteːkaʔ] (plural) came to take on the meaning "artisan". The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec Empire, giving lists of rulers and their exploits.
In the pre-Columbian era, the Aztecs ate tamales with fillings such as turkey, flamingo, frog, axolotl , pocket gopher, rabbit, fish, turkey eggs, honey, fruits, squash, and beans, as well as with no filling.Aztec tamales differed from modern tamales by not having added fat.
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continent, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.
The axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum, also known as the Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander related to the tiger salamander. Although the axolotl is colloquially known as a "walking fish", it is not a fish, but an amphibian. The species was originally found in several lakes, such as Lake Xochimilco underlying Mexico City. Axolotls are unusual among amphibians in that they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis. Instead of developing lungs and taking to the land, adults remain aquatic and gilled.
One of the most significant rituals for the Aztecs was the feast of Atamalcualiztli (eating of water tamales). This ritual, held every eight years for a whole week, was done by eating tamales without any seasoning, spices, or filling which allowed the maize freedom from being overworked in the usual tamale cooking methods.
In the pre-Columbian era, the Mayas ate tamales and often served them at feasts and festivals.The Classic Maya hieroglyph for tamales has been identified on pots and other objects dating back to the Classic Era (200–1000 CE), although it is likely they were eaten much earlier. While tortillas are the basis for the contemporary Maya diet, there is remarkably little evidence for tortilla production among the Classic period Maya. A lack of griddles in the archaeological record suggests that the primary foodstuff of the Mesoamerican diet may have been the tamale, a cooked, vegetal-wrapped mass of maize dough. Tamales are cooked without the use of ceramic technologies and are therefore the form of the tamale is thought to predate the tortilla. Similarities between the two maize products can be found in both the ingredients and preparation techniques and the linguistic ambiguity exhibited by the pan-Mayan term wa referring to a basic, daily consumed maize product that can refer to either tortillas or tamales.
In Mexico, tamales begin with a dough made from ground nixtamalized corn (hominy), called masa , or alternatively a rehydrated masa powder, such as Maseca. It is combined with lard or vegetable shortening, along with broth or water, to bring the dough to the consistency of a very thick batter. It's traditional to whisk the lard, and whisk the resulting batter, with the intent of producing the signature soft and fluffy texture. Modern recipes may use baking powder to achieve a similar effect. Chili purees or dried chili powders are also occasionally added to the batter, and in addition to the spice can cause some Tamales to appear red in color. Tamales are generally wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves before being steamed, with the choice of husk depending on the region. They usually have a sweet or savory filling and are usually steamed until firm.
Tamale-making is a ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times, when special fillings and forms were designated for each specific festival or life event. Today, tamales are typically filled with meats, cheese or vegetables, especially chilies. Preparation is complex, time-consuming and an excellent example of Mexican communal cooking, where this task usually falls to the women.Tamales are a favorite comfort food in Mexico, eaten as both breakfast and dinner, and often accompanied by hot atole or champurrado and arroz con leche (rice porridge, lit. rice with milk) or maize-based beverages of indigenous origin. Street vendors can be seen serving them from huge, steaming, covered pots (tamaleras) or ollas .
Instead of corn husks, banana or plantain leaves are used in tropical parts of the country, such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, and the Yucatán Peninsula. These tamales are rather square in shape, often very large—15 inches (40 cm)—and these larger tamales are commonly known as "pibs" in the Yucatán Peninsula. Another very large type of tamale is zacahuil, made in the Huasteca region of Mexico. Depending on the size, zacahuil can feed anywhere between 50 and 200 people; they are made during festivals and holidays, for quinceañeras, and on Sundays to be sold at the markets.
The tamale is a staple in Belize, where it is also known by the Spanish name dukunu, a green corn tamale.
In Cuba, before the 1959 Revolution, street vendors sold Mexican-style tamales wrapped in corn husks, usually made without any kind of spicy seasoning. Cuban tamales being identical in form to those made in Mexico City suggests they were brought over to Cuba during the period of intense cultural and musical exchange between Cuba and Mexico, between the 1920s and 2000s.[ citation needed ]
A well-known Cuban song from the 1950s, "Los Tamalitos de Olga", (a cha-cha-cha sung by Orquesta Aragón) celebrated the delicious tamales sold by a street vendor in Cienfuegos. A peculiarly Cuban invention is the dish known as tamal en cazuela, basically consisting of tamale masa with the meat stuffing stirred into the masa, and then cooked in a pot on the stove to form a kind of hearty cornmeal porridge.
In Trinidad and Tobago, it is called a pastelle and is witnessed in almost every household during the entire Christmas Season and New Year Celebrations. It is usually made with cornmeal and filled with cooked seasoned meat (chicken and beef being the most popular), raisins, olives, capers and other seasonings. The entire pastelle is wrapped in a banana leaf, bound with twine and steamed. When fully cooked, the banana leaf is removed to reveal the brightly yellow colored dish. It is often indulged as is or along with a meal. The sweet version is called paymee.
Tamales have been eaten in the United States since at least 1893, when they were featured at the World's Columbian Exposition.A tradition of roving tamale sellers was documented in early 20th-century blues music. They are the subject of the well-known 1937 blues/ragtime song "They're Red Hot" by Robert Johnson.
While Mexican-style and other Latin American-style tamales are featured at ethnic restaurants throughout the United States, there are also some distinctly indigenous styles.
Choctaw and Chickasaw make a dish called banaha which can be stuffed or not (plain) usually the filling (range from none, fried bacon, turkey, deer, nuts, and vegetables like onions, potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes) can either be filled or mixed with the masa and steamed in a corn shuck.
Cherokee tamales, also known as bean bread or "broadswords", were made with hominy (in the case of the Cherokee, the masa was made from corn boiled in water treated with wood ashes instead of lime) and beans, and wrapped in green corn leaves or large tree leaves and boiled, similar to the meatless pre-Columbian bean and masa tamales still prepared in Chiapas, central Mexico, and Guatemala.
In the Mississippi Delta, African Americans developed a spicy tamale made from cornmeal (rather than masa), which is boiled in corn husks.In northern Louisiana, tamales have been made for several centuries. The Spanish established presidio Los Adaes in 1721 in modern-day Robeline, Louisiana. The descendants of these Spanish settlers from central Mexico were the first tamale makers to arrive in the eastern US. Zwolle, Louisiana, has a Tamale Fiesta every year in October.
In Chicago, unique tamales made from machine-extruded cornmeal wrapped in paper are sold at Chicago-style hot dog stands.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, the name "tamale pie" was given to meat pies and casseroles made with a cornmeal crust and typical tamale fillings arranged in layers. Although characterized as Mexican food, these forms are not popular in Mexican American culture in which the individually wrapped style is preferred.
The Indio International Tamale Festival held every December in Indio, California, has earned two Guinness World Records: the largest tamale festival (120,000 in attendance, Dec. 2–3, 2000) and the world's largest tamale, over 1 foot (0.3 m) in diameter and 40 feet (12.2 m) in length, created by Chef John Sedlar. The 2006 Guinness book calls the festival "the world's largest cooking and culinary festival."
In the Philippines and Guam, which were governed by Spain as a province of Mexico, different forms of "tamales" exist. Some are made with a dough derived from ground rice and are filled with seasoned chicken or pork with the addition of peanuts and other seasonings such as sugar. In some places, such as the Pampanga and Batangas provinces, the tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, but sweet corn varieties from the Visayas region are wrapped in corn husks similar to the sweet corn tamales of the American Southwest and Mexico. Because of the work involved in the preparation of tamales, they usually only appear during the special holidays or other big celebrations. Various tamal recipes have practically disappeared under the pressures of modern life and the ease of fast food. Several varieties of tamales are also found in the Philippines.
Tamales, tamalis, tamalos, pasteles, are different varieties found throughout the region. Some are sweet, some are savory, and some are sweet and savory. Mostly wrapped in banana leaves and made of rice, either the whole grain or ground and cooked with coconut milk and other seasonings, they are sometimes filled with meat and seafood, or are plain and have no filling. There are certain varieties, such as tamalos, that are made of a sweet corn masa wrapped in a corn husk or leaf. There are also varieties made without masa, like tamalis, which are made with small fish fry wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, similar to the tamales de charal from Mexico, where the small fish are cooked whole with herbs and seasonings wrapped inside a corn husk without masa. The number of varieties has unfortunately dwindled through the years so certain types of tamales that were once popular in the Philippines have become lost or are simply memories. The variety found in Guam, known as tamales guiso, is made with corn masa and wrapped in corn husks, and as with the Philippine tamales, are clear evidence of the influence of the galleon trade that occurred between the ports of Manila and Acapulco.
Mexican cuisine began about 9000 years ago, when agricultural communities such as the Maya formed, domesticating maize, creating the standard process of corn nixtamalization, and establishing their foodways. Successive waves of other Mesoamerican groups brought with them their own cooking methods. These included the Olmec, Teotihuacanos, Toltec, Huastec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Otomi, Purépecha, Totonac, Mazatec, and Mazahua.
In North America and Central America, a corn tortilla or just tortilla is a type of thin, unleavened flatbread, made from hominy. In Guatemala and Mexico, there are three colors of maize dough for making tortillas: white maize, yellow maize and blue maize.
Cornmeal is a meal ground from dried maize (corn). It is a common staple food, and is ground to fine, medium, and coarse consistencies, but not as fine as wheat flour. In the United States, very finely ground cornmeal is referred to as corn flour. When fine cornmeal is made from maize that has been soaked in an alkaline solution, e.g., limewater, it is called masa flour, which is used for making arepas, tamales and tortillas. Boiled cornmeal is called polenta in Italy and is also a traditional dish and bread substitute in Romania.
A nacatamal is a traditional dish found in Nicaragua similar to the tamal. The nacatamal is perhaps the most produced within traditional Nicaraguan cuisine and it is an event often reserved for Sundays at mid-morning, it is usually eaten together with fresh bread and coffee. It is common to enjoy nacatamales (plural) during special occasions and to invite extended family and neighbors to partake.
Nixtamalization is a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, washed, and then hulled. This process is known to remove up to 97–100% of aflatoxins from mycotoxin-contaminated corn. The term can also refer to the removal via an alkali process of the pericarp from other grains such as sorghum.
Humita is a Native South American dish from pre-Hispanic times, and a traditional food from the Andean region of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela. In Bolivia they are known as humintas, in Brazil as pamonha, and in Venezuela as hallaquitas. It consists of masa harina and corn, slowly steamed or boiled in a pot of water.
The culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences and continues to be defined as a contrast between poor Mayan villagers in the rural highlands, and the urbanized and relatively wealthy mestizos population who occupy the cities and surrounding agricultural plains.
Honduran cuisine is a fusion of indigenous (Lenca), Spanish, Caribbean and African cuisines. There are also dishes from the Garifuna people. Coconut and coconut milk are featured in both sweet and savory dishes. Regional specialties include fried fish, tamales, carne asada and baleadas. Other popular dishes include meat roasted with chismol and carne asada, chicken with rice and corn, and fried fish with pickled onions and jalapeños. In the coastal areas and the Bay Islands, seafood and some meats are prepared in many ways, including with coconut milk.
Pasteles, also known as pastelles in the English-speaking Caribbean, are a traditional dish in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and Panama. It looks like a tamale. In Central American cuisine, it more closely resembles a British pasty or an Italian calzone. In other Spanish-speaking countries, pastel is a generic term for pastry. In Hawaii, they are called pateles in a phonetic rendering of the Puerto Rican pronunciation of pasteles, as discussed below.
Ancient Maya cuisine was varied and extensive. Many different types of resources were consumed, including maritime, flora, and faunal material, and food was obtained or produced through a host of strategies, such as hunting, foraging, and large-scale agricultural production. Plant domestication focused on several core foods, the most important of which was maize.
Kenkey or kormi or kokoe or dorkunu is a staple dish similar to sourdough dumpling from the Ga-inhabited regions of West Africa, usually served with pepper sauce and fried fish or soup, stew. Areas where kenkey is eaten are Ghana, eastern Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, western Benin, Guyana, and Jamaica. It is usually made from ground corn (maize), like sadza and ugali. It is also known in Jamaica as dokunoo, dokono, dokunu, blue drawers, and tie-a-leaf. In Trinidad it is called "paime" and differs in that it does not contain plantain but may include pumpkin and coconut. In the cuisine of the Caribbean, it is made with cornmeal, plantain, green banana, sweet potato or cassava, wrapped in banana leaves. The food is derived from African cooking traditions.
Aztec cuisine is the cuisine of the former Aztec Empire and the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico prior to European contact in 1519.
Most traditional foods in Guatemalan cuisine are based on Maya cuisine, with Spanish influence, and prominently feature corn, chilies and beans as key ingredients. Guatemala is famously home to the Hass avocado and the birthplace of chocolate, as first created by the Mayans.
Mexican street food, called antojitos, is prepared by street vendors and at small traditional markets in Mexico. Street foods include tacos, tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, empalmes, tostadas, chalupa, elote, tlayudas, cemita, pambazo, empanada, nachos, chilaquiles, fajita and tortas, as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, beverages and soups such as menudo, pozole and pancita. Most are available in the morning and the evening, as mid-afternoon is the time for the main formal meal of the day.
Belizean cuisine is an amalgamation of all ethnicities in the nation of Belize and their respectively wide variety of foods. Breakfast often consists of sides of bread, flour tortillas, or fry jacks that are often homemade and eaten with various cheeses. All are often accompanied with refried beans, cheeses, and various forms of eggs, etc. Inclusive is also cereal along with milk, coffee, or tea.
A flour tortilla is a type of soft, thin flatbread made from finely ground wheat flour from Mexico.
Guanimes are a prepared food that can be traced back to the pre-Columbian era in Puerto Rico.
Tamale pie is a pie and casserole dish in the cuisine of the Southwestern United States. It is prepared with a cornmeal crust and ingredients typically used in tamales. It has been described as a comfort food. The dish, invented sometime in the early 1900s in the United States, may have originated in Texas, and its first known published recipe dates to 1911.
Binaki or pintos is a type of steamed corn sweet tamales from two regions in the Philippines – Bukidnon and Bogo, Cebu. They are distinctively wrapped in corn husks and are commonly sold as pasalubong and street food in Northern Mindanao and Cebu. It is sometimes anglicized as "steamed corn cakes".