Did you know that the story of delicious tamales goes back as far as 5000 BC, perhaps even 7000 BC in pre-Columbian times? It’s quite true. In fact, tamales weren’t introduced to other countries, including the United States, until the 1900s.
Today, let’s dig into the history behind these culinary delights.
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 delicious tamale.
What was great about the tamale was it could be made ahead of time, packed up to go, then warmed and eaten later. The tamales were not only eaten by the armies but also by hunters and travelers.
Delicious 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 also 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.
And yes, delicious tamales come in different sizes and shapes. They can be steamed, oven-roasted, fire-roasted, toasted, grilled, barbecued, fried, and boiled.
Due to their lengthy preparation process, delicious tamales were traditionally known as a holiday food and reserved for special occasions or eaten during festivities. Making tamales took one or two days!
Women worked together to make the sauces and meats, prepare the masa, and then fill and wrap the tamales before steaming them. 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 delicious 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!