COSTA RICA EXTRA – For almost all Costa Rican families a Christmas season without tamales is just not complete. This delicious typical dish–prepared almost exclusively in December to eat during the year-end parties and celebrations–comes from a millennial tradition.
Tamales in Costa Rica vary according to region and season. Most notable are the varieties from the Central Valley and Guanacaste.
One sort of tamales, “tamales mudos” (deaf tamales) are typically served during certain festivities throughout the year. Sweet tamales and corn tamales are popular during Holy Week. Tamales in Costa Rica are typically eaten with Salsa Lizano, a locally prepared Worcester kind of salsa.
The base of a tamal is corn, or maize, a crop cultivated by the Meso-american Indians since pre-Columbian times. Corn has always been an essential element in their diet and it is used to prepare an endless number of tasty dishes, such as the well-known tortillas and atole, plus, even, alcoholic drinks like chicha.
It is also believed that tamales are a part of our ancestors’ heritage. The truth is, all Costa Ricans will remember having eaten them since they were small children.
Making and cooking tamales is generally an activity which involves the participation of all family members. It is a slow, careful and laborious process. As some family members prepare the corn dough, others will be chopping and mincing additional ingredients and yet others will be preparing the plantain leaves and strings that will be used to wrap the tamales for boiling. Grandmothers and mothers will teach granddaughters and daughters how to make tamales; making sure the tradition is kept alive.
All through the month of December no Costa Rican home will be found without tamales. It might seem as if they don’t get tired of eating them; some, even three or four times a day! They are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they are absolutely fundamental for coffee break time.
During the season, invitations to eat tamales at friends’ and relatives’ homes are common. Whoever does not make them can buy them ready to eat from commercial producers. The fact is, for Christmas, tamales cannot be missing from the kitchen!
To make tamales you will need plantain (banana) leaves, corn flour (masa), pork along with vegetables, spices and or any preparation according to taste.
You can find all the ingredients in your local supermarket, cheaper at the local fairs that are held every weekend in every town – big and small – across the country.
If you don’t want to take the time to make, you several options, including visiting a “typical” Costa Rican restuarant that will not miss having tamales on the meny, local supermarkets sell prepared and ready -to-cook, or get invited to a Costa Rican home that has a tradition of making their own tamales.
Article first appeared on Costa Rica Extra.