Tamales from Market Ignacio Ramírez

By Jade Arroyo

In Mexico tamales have an important place in people’s diets and are also popular at parties and as an everyday food (eating them with atole for breakfast is a classic). You could almost write an encyclopedia about tamales. There are so many varieties. Some of their names (which vary from region to region) are zacahuil, corunda, pata de burro, nacatamal, chak chak wah, buulil wa, kehil uah, chanchamito, uchepo, canario, juacané, xocotamal and even a tamal sandwich, the guajolota. A tamal is made with corn dough stuffed with different ingredients and sauce, wrapped up in corn husks or leaves and steamed.

The pre-Hispanic origin of tamales is documented; many of the tamales back then had a ritual use and were often used in funerary rituals, a custom still practiced. In Mexico they are still put on Day of the Dead altars and eaten on February 2, Día de la Candelaria.  In San Miguel there are many tamal stands, but a very special one is the one located at the Ignacio Ramírez market, with a table and stools to sit down and enjoy them for the affordable price of seven pesos each. With 16 years of tradition, the establishment was originally founded by doña Alicia Chávez. Tamales y Atole Doña Ali opened up their doors for us and taught us how to make these traditional treats. Doña Alicia and her sons make 250–300 tamales a day and several dozen liters of atole. They have green and red sauce, poblano and cheese, red sauce and cheese and sweet tamales; the atole comes in chocolate, guava, cookie flavor, rice and milk and cacao skin. You can find them every day from 8:30am to 1pm. They also cater large orders for parties; call 154-8043.

Red sauce and chicken tamales

(15–20 pieces)
1 kilo of dough for tamales
1 cup of lard
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of baking soda
Dry corn husks previously soaked in hot water
Water (enough for the steamer pot)
For the stuffing:
3 cups of shredded, boiled chicken
2 bay leaves
½ onion
For the sauce:
1/2 kilo of tomatoes
5 red chillies
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Boil the tomatoes for five minutes. In a blender purée them with a little water, the chiles, onion and salt and set aside. In a bowl mix the dough, lard, salt and baking soda. Knead well until you get an even, soft consistency. You can add a little pork or chicken broth to work it more easily. Put a little dough on the corn husk and press it softly with a spoon, then top it with some chicken and a tablespoon of sauce. Fold the bottom part and the sides in. Repeat until all the dough and filling are used. Place the tamales in a large steamer pot and cook on the stove for an hour on a medium-high flame or until a fork used to pierce the dough comes out clean. In San Miguel you can purchase the dough for tamales at El Molino, on Calzada de la Estación.

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