This year I was lucky to experience one of Costa Rica’s most kept traditions- the making of Tamale. Tamale is a dish, which is usually prepared for Christmas during the month of December.
The history behind the Tamale is rather cloudy. Some people say that Aztec women started making them as early as 7.000 B.C. There was a need for more portable yet sustainable food and the Tamale could be made ahead of time, packed and warmed as needed.
While people back then cooked them in hot ashes, the methods of preparing Tamale have changed a lot since then. But not only the way of cooking has changed. The size, color, shape and filling has changed as well.
Nowadays Tamale can be found in the United States and all over Latin America with each slightly or very different recipes. Pork, beef and chicken are used for the filling and in Mexico, for example, some people even prepare sweet Tamale with a chocolate filling or fruits. Grandmothers and mothers will teach their kids how to make Tamale; making sure the tradition is kept alive.
The Costa Rican tradition version mainly consist of corn dough, potatoes, pork, rice and vegetables all wrapped in banana leaves.
The process of making Tamale usually takes 1 to 3 days, and involves the whole family. The family usually lines up in an assembling line, where the last person has to wrap each Tamale in the banana leaves- it for sure looks easier than it is!
To cook them, all the tamale are boiled in water for an hour or more, and when they are ready, everybody enjoys.
Since making this dish takes a lot of time, there is no such thing as just preparing a few Tamale. Usually they are made in hundreds to share with the family and friends during the whole year. They are often even given away as a present during the Christmas season.
The Tamale is eaten at every time of the day, but mostly accompanied by a warm coffee or a sweet “aguadulce” (traditional sugar cane drink).
If you come to enjoy a Costa Rica vacation during the month of December, you should definitely try one of these special dishes, but even if you are traveling to this beautiful country during another month of the year, many restaurants offer this dish and you can always ask for them.