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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-02-28 17:00:56 | Merida, Yucatan, Mexico
Keywords: masa, traditional
Popular Mexican gastronomy revolves around three simple dishes: tacos, tortas and tamales. I already presented you the first two, now that I'm in Southern Mexico, where it's most popular, I'll tell you a bit about the tamales (singular is tamal). That traditional dish has been eaten in Mexico territory for more than 2 000 years, with very little variation compared to the original recipe.

The are two major variants of the tamales preparation, which I will call the Central way and the Southern way. The Central way (used in the North as well) cooks the tamales within corn leaves, while the Southern (Oaxaca, Guerrero, Yucatán, Chiapas, Veracruz and Tabasco states) way wraps them in banana leaves. The difference is due due to the local culture in place. They slightly differ in appearance since the ones cooked in corn leaves are usually shaped like a corn cob (that's normal to adapt to the wrapping), while the ones cooked in banana leaves are usually square because of the folding of the thick leaves.

Tamal in corn leaves

But inside the leaves, you'll find essentially the same thing: masa paste with a filling. The masa is dried corn grains that has been cooked in limewater and soaked overnight, in order to separate more easily all the components (like the skin). It's then pressed into a paste. Once you reached a coarse consistency you add lard and spices to get the masa for the tamales. If you were doing masa for tortillas, you would be continue grinding until a smooth consistency, without adding anything to the paste. The masa for tamales yields a softer and lighter taste which remains close to a paste texture even once cooked.

The masa paste is shaped by hand to include a filling before being wrapped in the leaves (corn or banana) and being boiled or steamed. The filling can be virtually anything, sweet or salty. It's been documented there a few thousands varieties of tamales. The meat tamales (usually with stewed chicken, beef or pork) are often eaten as meals (many tamales per order). A tamal usually weights around 100 or 150 grams. The vegetables and fruits ones are also very popular. I had one with 'new corn'... it was extremely sweet.

Tamal in banana leaves

Mexicans refer to the trilogy of tacos, tortas and tamales as their vitamin T, since it's the basis of their alimentation. All three dishes are usually found in the street... where many people eat. Out of the three, tamales are my least favorite, but that's a personal preference. I find them too high in carbs and too low in proteins. Tacos are my #1 choice.

Popular Mexican food trilogy

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