12/10/2012

What's the connection between the Mayans and Tamales?

If you happen to live in South Texas, you know that no Christmas celebration is complete without traditional Mexican tamales. Those masa-wrapped delicious treats that can be filled with shredded pork, beef, chicken, pinto beans, black beans, jalapenos and cheese, and more become the must-have item during the holidays.

Besides predicting the end of an era on December 21st, 2012, those majestic Mayans also may have perfected the tamal (singular for tamales).  Well-played, Mayans!  The tamal has been traced back to the preclassic period (1200-250 BC) where the Mayans would make up a whole mess of tamales for their feasts.

These tasty treats actually originated in Mesoamerica (8000-5000 BC), and not in your grandma's kitchen like you thought.  They were made to be a portable food, hence being wrapped in corn husks.  If you grew up in a Mexican-American household, you probably got wrangled to help make a million dozen (or so it seemed) by your Abuelita who told you that if you didn't help, you didn't eat!  So there you sat for hours, shredding meat, spreading masa on cornhusks, filling up the pockets, and rolling the tamales up tight.  Your hands were covered in goo, but the smells coming from the kitchen made your mouth water and you couldn't wait till you could stop making them and start eating them!

And what you couldn't eat, grandma sold to the neighbors for $5 a dozen, right?  Heck.  Tamales are not just a Christmas tradition, they're a Mexican-American free-enterprise system! It's possible they're more addicting than crack, and if the federal government ever tasted one, they'd make them illegal and we'd be protesting "the war on tamales!"

So while it may be grammatically correct to refer to a single tamale as a "tamal"...it's just politically incorrect to assume anyone would be eating just one!  Give me TAMALES, or give me death! Oh wait...the Mayans may do just that!  Ya me voy to the nearest tamal store.  Andale!

Feliz Navidad.