Posted on March 23, 2016
Tamales are delicious. Made of masa (corn-based dough) filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, even fruits, tamales are wrapped in a corn husk or a banana leaf before they are steamed. This wrapping is, of course, discarded before the tamales are eaten.
Did I say eaten? I meant devoured, savored, enjoyed!
Making tamales is time-consuming and challenging enough that some families have special get-together to make them before a holiday meal. Of course, other families buy their tamales from their favorite “Tamale Guy,” “Tamale Factory,” or other source. I've seen signs for “homemade tamales” in unlikely places like a hair salon!
One of my favorite meals is Trader Joe's “Cheese and Green Chile Tamales.”
This is the first year that March 23 is celebrated as National Tamale Day, and there was a logo contest whose winners will be announced today. Check out the official website. Apparently there are lots of Tamale Days celebrated all through the year in particular towns in the U.S. – but today is the start of the nationwide celebration of this food.
Where'd it come from...?
The yummy and varied tamale is a traditional Mesoamerican dish. “Mesoamerican” means Middle-American—in other words, Central American. People often associate the dish with Mexicans, which is fine—but the dish has been around since around 8000 BCE, and Mexico became a country almost ten thousand years later!
Aztec and Maya made versions of tamales, and so did the Olmecs and Toltecs before them. This portable food was used for hunters, traders, armies, and travelers.
By the way, because so many different groups made tamales, there are a lot of different names for this dish, many of which are still in use. The word tamales is Spanish, but the singular form of the Spanish word is tamal.
English speakers hearing tamales, plural, assumed that the singular was tamale, so that has indeed become the “proper” singular form in English. This formation of a word is called back-formation.
- Here is a video that shows a “simple” way of making tamales. You can see why I mention that it is time-consuming!
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