Long before the tortilla was part of the diet of Mesoamerican cultures, the tamale emerged as soon as they dominated and domesticated the cultivation of corn, about 5,000 years ago.
Its apparently simple preparation is made up of a portion of corn dough mixed with other ingredients such as iguana, shrimp, beans or fish, and later wrapped in corn or banana leaves and steamed, requiring the development of instruments such as stone scrapers. to shell the ears; vessels and pichanchas, which are clay pots with perforations for washing the nixtamal; to grind the grain, metates; and to cook the dough, pots and lids that resisted the heat.
The techniques of nixtamalization, grinding, kneading, wrapping and cooking that these cultures learned to master at the time, are practically the same that continue to this day, proving the effectiveness of Mesoamerican ingenuity.
After this interesting introduction to the origin of tamales, we invite you to take a tour of tamales from different regions of Mexico to whet your appetite and learn more about this delicious dish, of which there are nearly 370 varieties, and which gives identity to our country.
Wrapped in dried corn leaves, or totomoxtle, the tamales from the northern region of the country are prepared in smaller portions than in other regions, which is why they are known as “finger” tamales in Nuevo León, and are also popular in Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. They are usually filled with shredded meat, machaca or asadero cheese and are seasoned with dried chili peppers.
In this region shared by the states of Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo, tamales take a different proportion. The delicious zacahuiles can measure up to five meters and are cooked in a texcal, an underground oven with firewood and hot stones for approximately 10 to 12 hours. This dish made with martajada corn dough, turkey or pork meat seasoned with a sauce of Chinese chilies and rattlesnakes and wrapped in a banana leaf is served at large celebrations.
The Oaxacan version of the tamales is wrapped in a banana leaf and the dough is flavored with acuyo or holy leaf. The most common fillings are black or yellow mole, pork in red sauce, and rajas.
In the Mixteca area, it is common to find sweet cocoa tamales, wrapped in corn husks for cooking, and bathed in a cocoa shell sauce that provides a bit of acidity to create a contrast of flavors.
In the central valleys of the region, stone tamales are prepared, whose dough is mixed with beans and wrapped in an avocado leaf.
On the coast of Oaxaca you can find tichinda tamales, a river mussel, seasoned with red chile sauce, and whose recipe is shared with its neighboring state, Guerrero.
One of the states with the greatest diversity of tamale recipes is Michoacán. The Zitácuaro Canarian tamale is made with rice flour to which they sometimes add almonds, and replace the lard with butter.
The uchepos from Pátzcuaro are made with tender corn dough and are more spongy, accompanied by sour cream, cotija cheese and green sauce.
The corundas are perhaps the best known, and are wrapped in a banana leaf giving this version of tamale a triangular shape. They are not usually stuffed, but you can find them with slices of chilaca pepper or green sauce, pork and purslane.
Yucatan tamales are filled with cochinita pibil and wrapped in banana leaves. They are accompanied by habanero chile and pickled red onion.
In Chiapas, cambray tamales are the most popular, and are offered as a great feast in all celebrations. They are made with shredded chicken, prunes, raisins, fried plantains, olives, bell peppers, and almonds.
Another Chiapas favorite is the chiltepin tamale, a plant very common in southeastern Mexico and Central America that gives the dough a delicious flavor. They are stuffed with chicken or shrimp meat and cooked wrapped in a banana leaf.
The alligator pejela always present in the kitchen of Tabasco, could not be left out of the tamale recipes of this state. You can also find the chanchamitos, seasoned with axiote, or those made with strained dough to give a softer texture.
With many shared recipes, in the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla ayocote tamales, a Mexican bean up to 2 centimeters long, accompanied by pipián, a sauce that dates back to the pre-Hispanic era made with tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. During its cooking they wrap it in totomoxtle.
In the center of Tlaxcala, aniseed tamales are served at large parties as an accompaniment to the main dish, mole con pollo, to pick up the last bit a drop that remains on the plate.
Bajío cuisine, which has great influence from the center and from Michoacán, includes dead tamales in its recipe book, made with blue corn dough and wrapped in corn husks, filled with mole, slices or pork.
In Mexico City it is very common to find a stand selling mole tamales, green sauce with chicken, rajas with cheese, and sweets wrapped in corn husks on the corners, with their proper supply of bolillos to prepare the famous turkeys, which are nothing more than the tamale placed in the middle of the bread.
In the port of Veracruz you can find ranch tamales, whose dough is flavored with hoja santa and then filled with pork or chicken seasoned with morita chile.
In the town of Tepetzintla they prepare them with beans cooked with pork rinds and cilantro and are wrapped in papatla leaves, a leaf like that of the banana tree, but smaller, and widely used in the region.
The Pacific and Sea of Cortez
In the states of Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa and southern Durango, they prepare a tamale made with nixtamalized corn dough with wood ash, mainly oak.
In Sinaloa they cook the pork tamale with lard, potatoes, olives and a mixture of chiles, they can also be stuffed with chilorio or shredded beef. Other typically Sinaloan varieties are silly tamales, made only of dough and without filling; and the barbones tamales, very typical of the coastal city of Escuinapa, prepared with shrimp with the head and the ‘beards’ coming out of the tamale.
Sonoran tamales are thinner and medium in size. The dough is filled with carrots, peas, and pork, beef, or chicken seasoned with guajillo chili, which gives a red color to the corn husks with which they are wrapped.