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How To Eat Tamales Properly

Tamales are a Mexican street food dish dating back to Aztec times. Quite simply, a tamale is a corn masa dough, stuffed with a sweet or savory filling. The masa dough is wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves, or plantain leaves, and steamed until fully cooked.

You're probably wondering how to eat tamales, especially if you've never had one before. Should you eat the corn husk? Is it meant to be eaten with your hands or with a fork a knife? We've got you covered with a guide on how exactly to eat this delicious grab-and-go treat.

What Are Tamales?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish, but their origins are Mesoamerican. It began when the Aztecs served their version of tamales to Spanish settlers. The original tamales were made with beans, chiles, and meat.

Tamales are growing in popularity across the United States, but you're more likely to be more familiar with popular Mexican food dishes like enchiladas, tacos, and burritos.

A street vendor sells tamales

(Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

In Mexico and parts of the Southwest, it is traditional to make a large batch of tamales as the main dish, or side dish at the Christmas dinner. In Texas, where Tex-Mex traditions reign supreme, you'll easily find tamales during the holiday season.

Traditionally, a tamale meal is served with a sweet, hot drink, called atole. Atole is made using masa harina, the same corn flour, or corn dough, used in tortillas. Atole is made by simmering the ground corn with cinnamon and water. It's the perfect drink for cold winter nights.

Types of Tamale Fillings

Tamales can be made with both savory and sweet ingredients. The most well-known here in America is the Mexican tamale. The most popular savory flavors are pork, cheese and chilis, and chicken tamales.

The most popular sweet tamale fillings are fruit, dulce de leche, or sweet rice. The sweet rice tamales mimic a creamy rice pudding, that pairs perfectly with the sweetened masa harina.

How To Eat Tamales

fork is digging in into a chicken tamale.

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The proper way to eat tamale is to unwrap the outer layer and discard it. Inside the wrapper will be the fresh tamale. We suggest adding condiments like salsa, guacamole, cilantro, or sour cream. If your tamale is fully loaded, we suggest consuming it with a fork. If you are on the run, you can eat the tamale with your hands, unwrapping as you eat.

Follow The Tamale Recipe

The best tamales are of course homemade. They are a labor of love, but totally worth it. To make the tamales, you'll need to make the masa dough. You'll need to mix masa harina with lard to make a paste. If you don't want to use lard, you can use vegetable shortening.

Organic Blue Masa Harina

While making the dough, let your corn husks soak in water until softened.

Next, make your filling. This could be anything from pulled chicken to beef or even beans. Check out our recipes here.

Take the corn husk, spread on your masa mix, add the filling, and fold up the husk. Steam the tamales for about one hour, or until the dough is no longer sticky.

Leftover tamales will stay good for one week in the fridge. To reheat, wrap in a wet paper towel to "steam" and heat up in the microwave.

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