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Mexican Food: The History Of Tamales

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Mexican Food
Mexican Food: The History Of Tamales

Mexican food fans know tamales as wrapped parcels of pure deliciousness. Whether they’re filled with chicken, beef or pork, tamales are not new additions to authentic Mexican menus. In fact, the tamale can be thought of as the grandpa of Mexican food. Believe it or not, there is evidence of tamales dating back 10,000 years. Not too many other foods can rival this longevity!

Where Does The Word Tamale Come From?

Tamale comes to us from the word tamalli in the Aztec language Nahuatl, and literally means ‘wrapped food’. While there isn’t too much written evidence of tamales in ancient history, hieroglyphics have filled in the blanks. According to these ancient scrolls, the tamales that the Tolmecs and Olmecs made were the same as the tamales we make today. How awesome is that?

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. The only thing missing was some flashy branding. Speaking of takeaways, do you know that you can get our hot Mexican food delivered?

Celebration Food

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.

You can always save yourself the trouble and pop in at the Tequila Sunrise Mexican Grill for the best tamales in Fort Lauderdale! We won’t even make you join the tamale assembly line!

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.

What Goes With Tamales?

We’re so glad you asked! Nothing goes down better with tamales than a freshly squeezed Margarita! With 75 different types of Tequila to choose from, you are guaranteed to find your favorite. Join us for a fantastic Fort Lauderdale Happy Hour every day from 3 – 7pm and find out what all the tamale-fuss is about.

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