Friday, February 20, 2009

Battle of the Tamales!

Many hear the word Tamales and immediately think of the red cinnamon flavored candies. Though picking these chewed up candies from my teeth is one of my favorite activities, original tamales are much more delicious.

Tamales are the first lunchbox style food and were originally consumed by ancient Aztec warriors during their travels. Ingredients are placed inside a pocket of corn dough (masa) which are then wrapped in corn leaf or plantain leaf and steamed or boiled to perfection. Tamales are popular during holidays, when families collaborate in making these wrapped delicacies.
The Colombian Tamales in the first two pics were purchased at Los Toldos, a cozy Mom and Pop restaurant in Queens, NY on Northern blvd and 84th street.

Depending on the region, you will see differences in size, texture and ingredients.
  • Brazilian Pamonhas are mostly filled with cheese, sausage and peppers
  • Peruvian, Bolivian & Chilean Humintas are usually made with cheese, raisins and anise seeds
  • Filipino Tamales are made with rice dough and filled with chicken and coconut milk
  • Venezuelan Hallacas mainly contain meats, onions and peppers

Since my background is Colombian and my girlfriend, Jaquie, is Mexican I decided to put these two Tamal counterparts head to head.

Let's Compare!

Colombian Tamal

Can fit about 4 Mexican Tamales.
Made with moist and buttery corn dough.
Contain full pieces of pork, peas, carrots, and onions.
Paired with delicious Colombian white rice and spicy cilantro and onion based aji sauce on the side.

Mexican Tamal:

Made small enough to eat a few in one sitting
Can include meat, cheeses, chiles(rajas) or any combination of the above, usually with a spicy kick.
Can also be sweet.

These tamales were from our Christmas dinner in El Paso, TX. I'd recommend reheating in the toaster oven for crispy yumminess!

While I wish I could stay true to my Colombian roots, I must admit that I would choose a Mexican tamal if they were both placed in front of me... unless my mom was looking (wink wink).


  1. Tamalaes from Guatemala are really good, probably similar to Mexican... So where can I get some tamales in Mahattan?

  2. Colombian Tamales are delicious! I will have to make a post of them pretty sooon!

    Hi Danny, I saw your comment I will love to link to you...nice blog! and thank you for stopping by.

    Where are you from in Colombia?

  3. Guatemalan tamales are the best!
    Hard to find but its worth it to search for them. Its a mix of mexican tamales, venezuelan hayacas and tamales del tolima in colombia...

  4. Those tamales were ridiculous, what you talkin about Willis?! I don't remember trying any mexican tamales, btw. Punks.

  5. Choi has never had either a Mexican tamale or a Guatemalan tamal, one or the other, because if she had tried them both she would know they are not at all similar.

    Guatemalan tamales, like much foreign food, do not appeal to us from the United States. That shouldn't be a surprise, we're a meat and potatoes people and most people I know won't go near anything unfamiliar. Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, etc, none of these sell well to Americans. The only ones that sell are those cuisines that have been heavily modified to appeal to us, such as Chinese, Tex-Mex and Olive Garden. No one from China, Mexico or Italy would recognize food from such restaurants. The lady at my local Chinese restaurant calls it "American food" as opposed to her menu items that appeal to Chinese people, and let me tell you those menu items you wouldn't eat (like chicken's feet or chicken tounges, e.g.).

    Guatemalans are excessively proud and fond of their regional cuisine. In my subjective opinion, it's lousy. Guatemalan food is simple, basic dishes that are aggressively bland. It seems to me to be the type of simple food that could be prepared living in a thatched hut over a rudimentary fire. Guatemalans will intensely shout me down over this issue, insisting that the food takes a lot of time to prepare.

    A Guatemalan tamal (call it a tah-MAHL. If you call it a tah-mah-ley they will laugh at you) is a giant mound of pure, tasteless, mushy corn meal filled with a tiny cube of meat in the middle (or chicken leg including bone), a green olive, and if the cook is extravagant, two capers. Red or black will have a slight dusting of tasteless red powder for flavor. Red, black, chuchito, or pache, they all taste exactly the same, differing only in the aggression of their blandness.

    Guatemalans will make a big point of the differing tastes between those that are wrapped in platano (a big bananna) leaves and those that are wrapped in the corn husk. Gimme a break. The effect is of eating a giant glob of grits for your dinner. It has to be one of the most boring foods in the world. To make the problem intolerable, you will be served tamales anywhere you go in Guatemala. To them this is a deluxe food and any guest deserves the best. Not only that, but then you have to listen to them go on and on and on and on about how good they are, how much better these are than the last ones, and etc. Just pray that they don't have any tamales de elote to give you for dessert because man those are hard to get through....they don't even have the little piece of meat! They are just pure corn mush. It's like having people serve you grits every you go and then having to hear them go on and on about what good grits they are.

    1. I am so sorry to hear how bad of a tamale experience you had in Guatemala; where in the hell did you go or who in the hell fed you that crap you talk so bad about? As in any country, all dishes vary depending on the region, people tend to use spices and ingredients that are readily available which allows for so many variations of tamales; please Google the word tamale in Wikipedia so you can educate yourself a bit more and stop criticizing Guatemalan tamales so badly, it only makes you look ignorant about culture. Food is culture my friend.

  6. That colombian tamal looked delicious! I have had Cuban, Mexican and Puerto Rican tamales. All of them different and all delicious in their own way.

    I have made both Puerto Rican and Mexican tamales. I like to make my own variation on food. I have made Mexican tamales using olive oil instead of manteca(lard). I have made them using leftover turkey. They were good. The Puerto Rican pasteles that I have made, I used plantain as the dough instead of green bananas as is traditional.

    This blog makes me want to hunt for a good Colombian tamal recipe now. Thank you

  7. have you tried reheated tamales, let them reheat till they are crispy. I love them. Chicken are my favorites

  8. Wow, this might be a bit late, but it seems a mexican bug crawled up Larry Brown's ass. His statements are offensive and not educational at all. Just from his statements it seems he is not the most likeable person and perhaps he was served a diaper and not a tamal.

  9. i am mexican/hawaiian and i am no bigot to tamales. i love them all. from everywhere. they are all very tasty and as long as i can get them fresh i am happy...i do turn my nose up to canned tamales...but those don't count cause i don't think of them as true tamales.

  10. Great info first also i thought tamles is just a candy but you changed whole idea good. where i can get these recipes?

  11. Tamales are my favorite and Mexican tamales is my fav. Can you share best place to enjoy tamles in NY

  12. Without your post, maybe i will never know about Colombian tamales. Thank for giving helpful information. I hope you will give more in the future.

  13. Tamales are the best! I eat them while I pick the ebsts electric chainsaw of the market! That's my work!

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