I particularly love today’s feature in “All Around Latin America!” Brought to us by my new and super inspiring friend, Eva Smith, tamales are one of all-time favorite foods. I stay away from making them because they’re so labor intensive, though worth every minute. More importantly, she brings to us a bit of Mexican history and flavor — one of my most favored cuisines and culture.
Eva lives in Southern California. An IT architect by trade, in her free time she’s an avid baker, aspiring gourmet chef and enjoys writing and learning about people, food, and technology. She blogs at Tech.Food.Life. Please help me welcome this multi-talented foodie! – Bren
By Eva Smith
The history of Tamales in Mexican culture goes waaaayyy back. Tamales mean “wrapped food” and is derived from the word tamalii from the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs. Tamales originated in Mesoamericas early as 8000 to 5000 BCE. There is reference of tamales in history as well. In the 1550′s, the Aztecs served the Spaniards tamales during their visits to Mexico. In addition to Aztec history, there is reference to tamales being served as a “portable” food in Maya, Olmeca and Tolteca culture. In our family, Tamales are a beloved traditional food. We make and serve Tamales to celebrate special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, big events or to welcome new neighbors.
My mother grew up in a small village in Mexico D.F., the capital of Mexico, where cooking was a tradition and a career for her and her family. I remember my mom making tamales as a small child in Mexicali. My mother, grandmother and tias would spend the entire day preparing the food, singing and talking about the weeks events, gossiping, sharing advise and celebrating family. She was raised in a very traditional home. I remember the smiles on their faces and their laughter as if it was yesterday. As I became older, the tradition was passed on to my siblings and I as well. The tamale recipes are also passed on to each generation as well. Each year we seem to refine the process, making the recipes better and preparing them quicker. We all take turns in a growing assembly line of family members to prepare delicious tamales. Our family gets bigger every year and so does the love for our food, family, heritage and culture.
Our family has several tamale recipes: jalapeno cheese, mixed-vegetable, olives, chicken mole, chicken with red chile, chicken with vegetables, beef, green chile, sweet pineapple, sweet raisin tamales. The filling is what makes tamales unique and all are delicious. Our recipes always use corn-husks. However, some cultures use plantain leaves or banana leaves which are just as savory.
My favorite tamale recipe is the Chicken-Pasilla recipe. So light and fluffy, I could eat these tamales everyday of the week. Tamales are a comfort food that reminds me of my childhood and my love of family & heritage.
* pictures courtesy of Eva Smith.