By Marcella Escarfuller
Click aqui para español- >Tamales
Aside from family, the one thing synonymous with the holidays is the food. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without certain dishes on the table. Everyone has their holiday favorites they can’t live without. For some it’s cornbread stuffing, or pumpkin pie, or sweet potato casserole, or a crispy golden turkey. In Latin America, the one thing that's sure to be on every table on Christmas Day is a large platter piled high with tamales.
For those unfamiliar with the tamale, there are many varieties. Traditional tamales are made with a corn-based dough called masa (although some countries use mashed plantains instead) filled with some type of meat (chicken, beef and pork are the most common). The filled dough is then wrapped in either corn husks or banana leaves, tied together with twine, and then refrigerated or frozen. When you’re ready to eat them, just boil a pot of water and steam until piping hot.
The tamal originates from Mesoamerica, as early as 8000 BC. The indigenous cultures in Mexico and Guatemala likely spread the tradition to the rest of Latin America. The Aztec and Maya civilizations, as well as the Olmec and Toltec before them, prepared tamales for hunting trips and traveling large distances because they were conveniently portable. Tamales were also a traditional food for indigenous rituals and festivals.
The tradition of tamales has captivated the masses since they were featured at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the famous Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. However, tamales were introduced to the New World much earlier, in 1721, to what is now northwest Louisiana. Spanish settlers from central Mexico were the first tamal makers to arrive in the US, and they left a lasting tradition behind them. In fact, Zwolle, Louisiana (located just south of Shreveport, in Sabine Parish), hosts a Tamale Fiesta every October.
Christmastime is certainly a time to practice tried and true traditions. Our traditions are what make the holidays special – the nostalgia they bring of times gone by, the warmth they inspire from the inside out. Being surrounded by friends and family, good food and music, is all a part of that experience. But let’s not forget that sometimes it’s good to try new things and even create new traditions. This holiday season take a crack at making tamales with your loved ones. Make a day of it. It might just become your new favorite tradition.