A tamale is never bad. A person born for tamales is said to live without sorrow. Indeed, tamales are more than just a simple food; they are an emblematic symbol of Mexican culture, history, and culinary tradition. The wide variety of flavors and ingredients used in tamales is a testament to the diverse regions and communities across Mexico. In this article, we'll explore the vibrant world of tamales and the stories behind some of the most unique regional varieties.
The Roots of Tamales
Tamales, also known as tamalli, are among the most ancient dishes in Mexican cuisine. The basic ingredients – masa (corn dough), fillings, and a wrapper – have remained consistent over time, but the variations in terms of size, components, and flavors have multiplied. Gastronome Lupita Pérez San Vicente claims that there are a staggering 370 different varieties of tamales, which speaks to the creativity and adaptability of Mexican cooks and home chefs alike.
Tamales: A Mosaic of Mexican Regions
Each region in Mexico has its unique take on the humble tamale. In the State of Mexico, for example, you'll find the tamal neutro, a traditional tamale made exclusively of dough, aniseed, and salt. This simple tamale is so beloved that it's used to accompany moles on festive occasions. The capultamal, a delicious combination of masa and capulín (a type of cherry), is another local favorite.
Fish and Tamales
If you're craving something a little different, consider the carp and charales tamales. In these varieties, masa is combined with either carp or charales (small fish), then wrapped in corn leaves and roasted. This gives the tamales a delicate, smoky flavor that pairs well with the mild spiciness of chile guajillo, a popular marinade for carp tamales.
Mixtotes: A Tamale Without Dough
For those seeking a more unconventional tamale, look no further than the mixtote. Mixtotes are made with marinated meat and herbs but contain no dough, setting them apart from their traditional counterparts. The most authentic mixtotes are made with mutton, though pork and other meats are common. The State of Mexico is particularly famous for the mixtotes sold in roadside stalls along the route to Cuautla, between Chalco and Amecameca.
Atole: The Perfect Partner for Tamales
No tamale experience would be complete without a warm cup of atole, a pre-Hispanic drink made with masa. This traditional beverage is the ideal accompaniment to tamales and comes in a variety of flavors. The State of Mexico is particularly known for its fruit-based atoles, which include guava, pineapple, strawberry, and capulín. Chocolate and pinole champurrados, a type of atole thickened with ground maize, are also delicious options.
A Taste of Tradition
Tamales are more than just a meal; they are a connection to Mexico's rich history, cultural diversity, and culinary prowess. With their incredible variety and regional adaptations, tamales offer a taste of tradition that spans generations. No matter where you are in Mexico, there's a tamale waiting for you to discover and savor – and as the saying goes, a tamale is never bad. So, grab a warm atole, take a bite, and experience the flavors of Mexico's culinary treasure.
In-text citation: Conversación en la cocina, Gastronomía mexiquense by Rosita Sanchez, p.35, 2006