You probably take tamales for granted, but the history of tamales goes back as far as 5000 BC or even 7000 BC in pre-Columbian times. It wasn’t until the 1900s that tamales were introduced to other countries, including the United States. Today, we make tamales at El Chubby’s Fresh Mexican Grill in Aurora! You can get them tamales plain or smothered, and we sell tamales by the dozen or half-dozen, depending on how hungry you are.
As the Aztec, Mayans, and Incan tribes fought with each other, the women went along in the battles as army cooks to make the tortillas, meats, stews, and other foods. But when the women saw the need to have more portable sustaining foods, they invented the tamale. What was great about the tamale was it could be made ahead of time, packed up to go, then warmed and eaten at a later time. The tamales were not only eaten by the armies but also by hunters and travelers.
Tamales were steamed and cooked on the grill (comal) over the fire. Sometimes they put the tamales right on top of the coals to warm them and often they just ate them cold.
A tamale is made out of starchy corn-based dough called masa. It is often steamed in a corn husk, or banana or avocado leaves which are peeled off before you eat it. Wrappings can also be fabric, soft tree bark, and some other non-toxic leaves. Tamales are filled with seasoned meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and chilies.
The tamale is very popular and you can see how the tamale expanded into the variety we know today. For example, there are plain tamales, red, green, yellow and black chile tamales, and chocolate tamales. Get this, there are fish tamales, frog, tadpole, mushroom, rabbit, gopher, turkey, egg, squash blossom, honey, ox, seed and nut tamales.
There are red and white fruit tamales, white tamales, roasted meat, stewed meat, dried meat tamales, and bean and rice tamales. But we’re not done. There are raisin, pineapple, cinnamon, sweet sugar, berry, banana and pumpkin tamales. There were hard and soft cheese tamales, roasted quail tamales, ant, potato, goat, wild boar, lamb and tomato tamales.
Tamales come in different sizes and shapes. They can be steamed, oven-roasted, fire-roasted, toasted, grilled, barbecued, fried, and boiled.
Today it doesn’t take that long to make tamales, but in the old days, it took a lot of work and time. Tamales were holiday food and reserved for special occasions or eaten during festivities. The women worked together to make the sauces and meats, prepare the masa, and fill and wrap the tamales before steaming them. Making tamales took one or two days. It was too much work just to make a few, so when tamales were made they made hundreds at the same time. They often had tamale feasts where people gathered together and ate the special tamales. They were also eaten on holidays like Christmas, the Day of the Dead, Las Posadas, La Candelaria Day, and Mexican Independence Day.
But it doesn’t have to be a special occasion to eat this Mexican food favorite anymore. At El Chubby’s Fresh Mexican Grill in Aurora, you can have tamales any time. Order tamales by the dozen if you want and don’t forget to add all your favorite sides to make it a meal!