The Amazing Ancient History of Tamales
So you’ve never heard of tamales before? Ay caramba! They are a great addition to the splendidness of Latin food, but they also have a rich history among various groups that have lived in Central America for thousands of years. Before we learn more about the history of tamales, let’s find out exactly what they are and how to make them.
What is a Tamale, and How is it Made?
A tamale (tamal in Spanish) is a nice neat little package of meat and vegetables surrounded by corn dough or masa. Each tamale is assembled in corn husks by spreading the masa onto the husk, adding the fillings, and then wrapping it all up before steaming it to perfection. In some parts of Latin America, they use banana leaves instead of corn husks.
Fillings can be just about anything you’d like, such as chicken, pork, beef, or even fish accompanied by vegetables, herbs, chiles, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, cheese! The masa consists of finely ground dried corn mixed with water and fat to create a paste-like consistency. Once steamed, the masa becomes soft and absorbs the juices from the fillings nicely.
Tamales can be mild or spicy, depending on personal preferences. They can also come in vegetarian options. Or sometimes with no fillings at all, otherwise known as cooking them “blind.” When prepared traditionally, tamales are gluten-free since the dough is made only from corn. Best of all, the dish pairs wonderfully with margaritas!
What is the History of Tamales?
Now that you know more about the dish itself, let’s dive into the history of tamales! As far as we know, tamales have been a staple of Mesoamerican cuisine since at least 8000 BCE. That means they’ve been filling bellies for over 10,000 years!
What’s even more impressive is the basic recipe hasn’t seemed to change much in that time. Perhaps the type of available meat or fresh vegetables has varied over the centuries, or the version of corn has changed. However, the concept of combining them into a corn dough package has been consistent.
The earliest evidence of tamales is in the form of drawings made by the Olmecs and Toltecs. These hunter-gatherer groups would pack up a bunch of tamales for their hunting expeditions or when they were going to war.
Once the Mayans and Aztecs took over central America, they continued the tamale tradition of making this dish regularly. In fact, they even had tamale festivals to honor the food and eat it all week long!
So there you have it一the history of tamales. In modern times, you can eat tamales anywhere at any time, but they are even more popular around Christmas. Many families will spend the day together making the masa, preparing the fillings, and wrapping the corn husks. After steaming them, everyone gets to celebrate and enjoy their hard work!
Try Our Fresh Mex Tamales Today!
How can you celebrate the history of tamales today? Take a trip to Chevys!
Our menu at Chevys wouldn’t be complete without a couple of tamale options. You can choose your filling of slow-roasted shredded pork with meat sauce or salsa chicken with tomatillo green sauce, or better yet, have at least one of each! And just like the ancient Mesoamericans, we construct our tamales by hand every day and only use 100% corn masa.
Chevys prides itself on offering delicious fresh Mex food to everyone in the Annapolis and Arundel Mills area. We even have a second food truck now, so it’s even easier to bring our delectable dishes to you! Our restaurant locations are open every day from 11 a.m., and we can’t wait for you to try our food!