Monday, November 22, 2010

They're All Tamales.

When food came to mind, the first thing I thought was tamales! As I was searching for information about transnational food for my group project, I came across descriptions of tamales in different Latin American countries. I thought because a dish originated around a particular area, Latin America, that tamales would be the same or very similar in all countries. To my surprise, this was not the case. Tamales originated specifically in Mexico and made its way all across Latin America. Tamales from Mexico are made of masa (corn) dough usually wrapped in corn husks or plaintain leaves or even banana leaves, depending on its region and climate. From here, we start to see the transition of tamales. Even within the same country, subtle differences of the same dish start to appear.
Travel several hundred miles east and the tamale becomes milder in Cuba. And the dough changes from corn to a combination of green plaintains, yautia, yuca, and green bananas known as pasteles in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Take it back to Central America and the tamale is made up of maize (non-sweet corn) and wrapped in plaintain leaves.
Of course the types of meat of vegetables and spices varies along with the dough and wraps but it is common to add a little spice here and there or tomatoes or onions here and there but I didn't think the dough and wrap choice varies as well. This to me, I found interesting.
Not only that, there is a sweet version of tamales called "tamal de dulce" which comprise of raisins and dried fruits. This was very new to me, a sweet tamale? It seems almost scary and discouraging to try that but hey! You never know, I would love to try it!
In addition, tamales have made its way across the globe in places such as China, Philippines, Bangledesh, Nepal, and yours truly, the United States where each country has put its own spin on the dish.
I was quite intrigued that even within such a small area, there comes about so many differences. I would understand if the areas are thousands of miles apart with a different group of population such as Mexico and China or Cuba and Nepal. However, different regions create their own version of one particular dish. Who would have thought there would be such differences in such boundaries. The only kind of tamales that I've ever had are wrapped in corn husks made with masa dough. Maybe it's just me, I never really thought about tamales or have been exposed to the various kinds of tamales but I thought this was interesting.

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