Tamales are quite popular, and you’ll likely find them served in many Mexican and Latin American restaurants. But if it’s your first time encountering tamales, there could be some confusion as to how to eat them.
You might equate tamales to burritos or enchiladas, which you eat whole–tortilla wrapper included. Tamales don’t work the same; you have to unwrap the dish and discard the wrapper, then eat the dough and the filling inside.
Breaking Down Tamales
To understand why tamales are eaten the way they are, it’s good to get a breakdown of the different components of the dish: the wrapper, the dough, and the filling.
Tamales start with ‘masa,’ a dough made by combining ‘masa harina’ (corn treated with water and lime, which is dried and then ground), lard, and seasonings. Sometimes, some leftover broth from slow-cooking meat filling is also added into the mix. The masa starts off a little bit tacky, which allows it to be spread onto wrappers to form the tamales.
There are countless ways to fill tamales. You can fill them with fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, and more. You can even make them without any filling, like ‘tamales nejos.’ That said, most tamale recipes call for slow-cooked beef, chicken, or pork. The filling is added to the spread dough before the dish is wrapped.
After assembling the tamales, they are traditionally wrapped tightly with corn husks and then steamed. This is an important part of the dish because the wrapper ensures that the dish is cooked without the masa coming out dry.
Corn husks are the preferred wrapper because they’re slightly porous, so steam can penetrate them and cook the dough and filling fully while keeping the tamales in shape. Plus, corn husks also add a bit of extra flavor.
Other wrappers can be used; agave leaves, banana leaves, and plantain leaves are often used as alternatives.
You can eat tamales in whatever way you want. Finding your own style of enjoying it adds to the fun of the dish! If you want a guide on how they’re usually eaten, here are three of the most common ways to eat tamales:
With Your Hands
The traditional way to eat tamales is with your hands. Where do tamales originate from? They were historically prepared for hunters and warriors who would bring them on their trips because they were conveniently portable and could be eaten on the go.
Just unwrap the corn husks, keeping them there to hold the masa together, then chow down on your tamales! When you’re done, discard the wrapper.
If you don’t want to get tamales on your hands, you can take the less messy route and eat them with utensils. Unwrap them and discard the corn husks, then transfer the dough to a plate.
Cut them up into bite-sized pieces, then enjoy! This is the best way for kids to eat tamales, especially if they’re still too young to be given a full serving to handle.
While tamales are great on their own, they can get even better when you eat them with an accompanying sauce. Salsa, guacamole, and mole are some of the most common pairings. You can either add your sauce on top or dip your tamale into a bowl of it!
Tamales are best eaten warm, which is usually the case as most people eat them right when they get out of the steamer. But if you have some kept in your fridge and want to reheat them, you can simply throw them back into a steamer or put them in a microwave. You can also unwrap them and throw them into a pan for crispy-edged tamales.
Enjoy Tamales With Savor the Best’s Tamales Recipe
All this talk about tamales has probably gotten you craving this savory delight! Make fantastic tamales at home with Savor the Best’s easy tamales recipe, which includes tips and answers to some tamale FAQs like, “Can you freeze tamales?” Check it out on our website today!