Adopted By Aztecs
As the Tolmecs and Olmecs were taken over by Aztec and Mayan civilizations, their food was so good that the Aztecs and Mayans adopted their recipes. And so the tamale culture-hopped and became part of everyday life for the Aztecs and Mayans. The Aztecs were so taken with tamales, they started holding tamale festivals and week-long rituals all to do with eating tamales. In the 1550’s, the Aztecs treated visiting Spaniards by serving them tamale meals, which was a rather clever move for good diplomatic relationships.
Tamales – The Ancient Version Of Takeaways?
Back in the pre-historic Mesoamerican days, warriors and hunters would take tamales with them on long journeys and hunting trips. The fact that tamales were wrapped so securely made them ideal to pack in next to the spears and hunting knives. Their unique wrappings also allowed them to be heated up before being eaten. Just like that, the humble takeaway was born, even down to the disposable, eco-friendly packing.
Historically, tamales have featured on special occasion menus for festivals and rituals such as the Day of the Dead, Christmas, New Year’s or any other celebration or family. This probably isn’t because they’re so special, which they are, but rather because of the amount of work that goes into making them. They simply aren’t thought of as everyday food because they are a mission-and-a –half to prepare!
Tamales Take Team Effort
Making tamales at home is such a mission that it’s not uncommon for the whole family to get involved. Everyone gets together a day early to make the fillings and masa. On the day everyone, from young to old, mucks in and forms an assembly line. They spread the masa, add the filling and fold the tamales. After being filled and folded, the tamales are steamed and eaten. It’s not uncommon for hundreds of tamales to be made all at once for taking home and sharing.
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Tamales In The Past
Old fashioned tamales were quite adventurous. While today’s tamales are usually made with pork, beef or chicken, enfolded in corn masa and steamed in a corn husk, old-style tamales were way more adventurous. The fillings varied and included anything from meat, vegetables, seafood or even fruits and nuts. Not all of them used corn dough masa, but some used crushed rice or beans. The wrappings varied too. Instead of corn husks, some used banana, avocado or other non-toxic leaves. Some desperate chefs even resorted to bark or paper. The cooking methods varied from only steaming, too. Tamales were grilled, boiled, roasted or sometimes even fried.