A tamale — or more correctly tamal — is a traditional Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

n dish made of masa
Masa is Spanish for dough. In the Americas it is often short for masa de maíz, a maize dough made from freshly prepared hominy. It is used for making corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas and many other Latin American dishes. The dried and powdered form is called masa harina, masa de harina,...

 (a starchy dough, usually corn
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can themselves be filled with meats, cheese
Cheeses of Mexico
Cheeses in Mexico have a history that begins with the Spanish conquest, as dairy products were unknown in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Spanish brought dairy animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats as well as cheese making techniques. Over the colonial period, cheese making was modified to suit...

, vegetables, chilies
Chili pepper
Chili pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The term in British English and in Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia and other Asian countries is just chilli without pepper.Chili peppers originated in the Americas...

 or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.

Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Mayans, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200-250 BC).

Tamales originated in Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

 as early as 8000 to 5000 BCE. Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 and Maya
Maya civilization
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...

 civilizations as well as the Olmec
The Olmec were the first major Pre-Columbian civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco....

a and Toltec
The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology...

a before them used tamales as a portable food, often to support their armies but also for hunters and travelers. There have also been reports of tamal use in the Inca Empire
Inca Empire
The Inca Empire, or Inka Empire , was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century...

 long before the Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 visited the new world.

The diversity of native languages in Mesoamerica led to a number of local words for the tamal, many of which remain in use.


In Mexico, tamales begin with a dough made from nixtamalized
Nixtamalization typically refers to a process for the preparation of maize , or other grain, in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled. The term can also refer to the removal via an alkali process of the pericarp from other grains such as sorghum...

 corn (hominy
Hominy or nixtamal is dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization.The English term hominy is derived from the Powhatan language word for maize. Many other Native American cultures also made hominy and integrated it into their diet...

), called masa
Masa is Spanish for dough. In the Americas it is often short for masa de maíz, a maize dough made from freshly prepared hominy. It is used for making corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas and many other Latin American dishes. The dried and powdered form is called masa harina, masa de harina,...

or a masa mix such as Maseca
Gruma is the largest manufacturer of corn flour and tortillas in the world. Its brand names include Mission , Maseca, and Guerrero. Founded in 1949 as "Molinos Azteca, S.A.", the company is now based in Monterrey, Mexico and has subsidiaries in the United States, China, England, Central America,...

 and lard or vegetable shortening. Tamales are generally wrapped in corn husk
Husk in botany is the outer shell or coating of a seed. It often refers to the leafy outer covering of an ear of maize as it grows on the plant. Literally, a husk or hull includes the protective outer covering of a seed, fruit or vegetable...

s or plantain
Plantain is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa. The fruit they produce is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana...

 leaves before cooking, depending on the region from which they come. They usually have a sweet or savory filling and are usually steamed until firm.

Few countries have such an extensive variety of tamales as Mexico, where they're considered one of the most beloved traditional foods. Almost every region and state in the country has its own kind of tamal. It is said that there are between 500 and 1000 different types of tamales all around the country. Some experts estimate the annual consumption in hundreds of millions every year.

Tamales are a favorite comfort food
Comfort food
Comfort food is food prepared traditionally that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal. Comfort foods may be foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or a specific culture...

 in Mexico, eaten as both breakfast and dinner, and often accompanied by hot Atole
Atole is a traditional masa-based Mexican and Central American hot drink. Chocolate atole is known as champurrado or atole...

 or Champurrado, maize-based beverages of indigenous origin. Street vendors can be seen serving them from huge, steaming, covered pots (tamaleras).

In Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

, the tamal is often placed inside a wheat bread roll to form a torta
Torta is a Spanish word with a huge array of culinary meanings depending from the area and period of history in question. It originated in different regional variants of flatbread, of which the torta de gazpacho and torta cenceña are still surviving in certain areas of central Spain. Tortas are...

 de tamal
(also called guajolota), substantial enough to keep a person satiated until Mexico's traditional late lunch hour.

The most common fillings are pork and chicken, in either red or green salsa
Salsa (sauce)
Salsa may refer to any type of sauce. In American English, it usually refers to the spicy, often tomato based, hot sauces typical of Mexican and Central American cuisine, particularly those used as dips. In British English, the word typically refers to salsa cruda, which is common in Mexican ,...

 or mole
Mole (sauce)
Mole is the generic name for a number of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for dishes based on these sauces...

. Another very traditional variation is to add pink colored sugar to the corn mix and fill it with raisin
Raisins are dried grapes. They are produced in many regions of the world. Raisins may be eaten raw or used in cooking, baking and brewing...

s or other dried fruit
Dried fruit
Dried fruit is fruit where the majority of the original water content has been removed either naturally, through sun drying, or through the use of specialized dryers or dehydrators. Dried fruit has a long tradition of use dating back to the fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia, and is prized...

 and make a sweet tamal (tamal de dulce). There are commonly a few "deaf", or filling-less, tamales (tamal sordo), which might be served with refried beans
Refried beans
Refried beans is a dish of cooked and mashed beans and is a traditional staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, although each cuisine has a somewhat different approach when making the dish.-Ingredients and preparation:...

 and coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...


The cooking of tamales is traditionally done in batches of tens if not hundreds, and the ratio of filling to dough (and the coarseness of the filling) is a matter of discretion.

Instead of corn husks or plantain leaves, banana leaves are used in tropical parts of the country such as Oaxaca
Oaxaca , , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca is one of the 31 states which, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 571 municipalities; of which 418 are governed by the system of customs and traditions...

, Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

, Veracruz
Veracruz, formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave , is one of the 31 states that, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided in 212 municipalities and its capital city is...

, and the Yucatán Peninsula
Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel...

. These tamales are rather square in shape, often very large— 15 inches (40 cm) or more— and thick; a local name for these in Southern Tamaulipas
Tamaulipas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Tamaulipas is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 43 municipalities and its capital city is Ciudad Victoria. The capital city was named after Guadalupe Victoria, the...

 is Zacahuil. Another less-common variation is to use chard
Chard , is a leafy green vegetable often used in Mediterranean cooking. While the leaves are always green, chard stalks vary in color. Chard has been bred to have highly nutrious leaves at the expense of the root...

 leaves or avacado leaves, which can be eaten along with the filling.

Tamales became one of the representatives of Mexican culinary tradition in Europe, being one of the first samples of the culture that the Spanish conquistadors took back to Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 as proof of civilization, according to Fray Juan de Zumarraga
Juan de Zumárraga
Juan de Zumárraga was a Spanish Basque Franciscan prelate and first bishop of Mexico.-Origins and arrival in New Spain:...


Today, tamales are often eaten during festivities, such as Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

, the Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in many cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it attains the quality...

, Las Posadas, La Candelaria Day (February 2) and Mexican Independence Day.


In Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, before the 1959 Revolution, street vendors sold Mexican-style tamales wrapped in corn husks, usually made without any kind of spicy seasoning. The fact that Cuban tamales are identical in form to those made in Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

 suggests that they were brought over to Cuba during the period of intense cultural and musical exchange between Cuba and Mexico, between the 1920s and 1950s.

A well-known Cuban song from the 1950s, "Los Tamalitos de Olga," (a cha-cha-cha
Cha-cha-cha (music)
The Cha-cha-chá is a style of Cuban music. It is popular dance music which developed from the danzón in the early 1950s.- Origin :As a dance music genre, cha-cha-chá is unusual in that its creation can be attributed to a single composer, Enrique Jorrín, then violinist and songwriter with the...

 sung by Orquesta Aragón
Orquesta Aragón
Orquesta Aragón was formed on 30 September 1939, by Orestes Aragón Cantero in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The band originally had the name Ritmica 39, then Ritmica Aragón before settling on its final form. Though they did not create the Cha-cha-cha, they were arguably the best charanga in Cuba during 1950s...

) celebrated the delicious tamales sold by a street vendor in Cienfuegos. A peculiarly Cuban invention is the dish known as tamal en cazuela, basically consisting of tamal masa with the meat stuffing stirred into the masa, then cooked in a pot on the stove to form a kind of hearty cornmeal porridge.

Corn-husk wrapped tamales are also popular in southeastern Cuba.

Central America

In Belize
Belize is a constitutional monarchy and the northernmost country in Central America. Belize has a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Even though Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official...

, El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

, Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

, Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

 and Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 they are also wrapped in plantain
Plantain is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa. The fruit they produce is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana...

 leaves. The masa is usually made out of maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

 (non-sweet corn), such as what is known as feed corn in the U.S. The corn usually eaten in the U.S. on the cob (sweet corn) is called elote
Elote , is the Mexican name for corn on the cob. They are a popular street food in Mexico, although they are frequently served at home prepared in the same way . In Mexico, Chicago, and the southern U.S., it is customary to consume elotes on a stick, or by grasping the husk of the cob that has been...

. Guatemalan cuisine is known in particular for their hundreds of varieties of tamales, popular varieties, include tamales de gallina (chicken), tamales dulces (sweet), and tamal de elote (in Costa Rica, the name can also refers to a type of corn pastry). In Guatemala, a variety of tamal is called "Tamal Colorado," which has a chicken or pork filling, a tomato based sauce recado
Recado is the fourth album by singer-songwriter Vince Bell. It was released on May 8, 2007. According to Bell: "Recado is a collection of messages that wind like a long dirt road through the years of my writing. There's the first song I wrote after moving to Austin, written on a whore-house piano...

, (hence the "colorado," which means red coloured). It may also contain olives, red bell pepper, prunes or raisins, capers, and almonds.

The tamal is a staple in Belize, where it is also known by the Spanish name bollo. Nicaragua has a large form known as Nacatamal
A nacatamal is a Nicaraguan dish similar to the tamal and yet unlike the tamales typical of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America, the nacatamal is unique to Nicaragua both in its name and its culinary combination...

In Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras, there are tamales without filling which are served as the bread or starch portion of a meal:
  • Tamal de elote (made with yellow corn, sometimes with a sweet or dry taste)
  • Tamal de chipilín (made with chipilín
    Crotalaria longirostrata, the Chipilín, is a perennial legume that is native to Mexico and Central America. Other common names include Chepil, Chepilin, and Longbeak Rattlebox.-Description:...

    , a green leaf)
  • Tamal blanco (simple, made with white corn)

During Christmas holidays, tamales of corn flour are a special treat for Guatemalans and Hondurans. The preparation time of this type of tamal is long, due to the amount of time required to cook down and thicken the flour base.

In Panama, tamales are considered one of the main national dishes. The Panamanian tamal is fairly large. The most common fillings are chicken, raisins, onions, tomato sauce, and sometimes sweet peas. Pork is also used. Another variation is tamal de olla
Tamal de olla
In Panamanian cuisine, Tamal de Olla which is Spanish for "Tamale of the Pot/Pan," is best described as Panamanian-style tamale that fills the baking pan in which it is cooked, and is not wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf...

, which is cooked in a pot and then served directly onto plates. Tamales are usually served for all special occasions, including weddings and birthday parties, and are always found on the Christmas dinner table.

South America

Tamales are found in the north of Argentina (the provinces of Jujuy, Salta
Salta is a city in northwestern Argentina and the capital city of the Salta Province. Along with its metropolitan area, it has a population of 464,678 inhabitants as of the , making it Argentina's eighth largest city.-Overview:...

 and Tucumán
San Miguel de Tucumán is the capital of the Tucumán Province, located in northern Argentina at from Buenos Aires. It is the fifth biggest city of Argentina after Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosario and Mendoza, and it is also the most important city of Northern Argentina...

). Tamales Salteños are made with shredded meat of a boiled head of a lamb or pork and corn flour wrapped in "chalas". Tamales Jujeños use minced meat and corn and red peppers.

Another version is called humita
Humita is a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times, and a traditional food in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. It consists of masa harina and corn, slowly cooked in oil....

. It is found in Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

, Argentina and Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

. It can be salted or sweet. Sweet ones have raisins, vanilla, oil, sugar. Salty ones can be filled with cheese (queso fresco) or chicken. Humitas are cooked in the oven or in the pachamanca
Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish based on the baking, with the aid of hot stones , of lamb, mutton, pork, chicken or guinea pig, marinated in spices...

. Humitas are not tamales by Peruvian and Argentine standards. In Chile, the food known as humitas is almost identical to the tamal.

Peruvian and Bolivia
Bolivia officially known as Plurinational State of Bolivia , is a landlocked country in central South America. It is the poorest country in South America...

n tamales tend to be spicy, large and wrapped in banana
Banana is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red....

 leaves. In Lima
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It is located in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers, in the central part of the country, on a desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima...

, common fillings are chicken or pork, usually accompanied by boiled eggs, olives, peanuts or a piece of chili pepper. In other cities, tamales are smaller, wrapped in corn husks and use white corn instead of yellow corn.

In Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, there is a similar food called "pamonha
Pamonha is a traditional Brazilian food. It is a paste made from fresh corn and milk, boiled wrapped in corn husks. Variations may include coconut milk. Pamonhas can be savoury or sweet, the latter being the norm in north-east Brazil...

", but it's not really a tamal and has different origins.

In Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

, tamales are called Hallacas. They are wrapped in plantain leaves and filled with stewed pork, raisins and olives. They are traditionally eaten for Christmas. Also, the Venezuelan "bollos" are similar to the tamal, wrapped in corn husks, filled with hot peppers or plain, and eaten as a side dish.

In Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

, they are wrapped in plantain leaves. There are several varieties (including most widely known tolimense as well as boyacense and santandereano). Like other South American varieties, the most common are very large compared to Mexican tamales — about the size of a softball
Softball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of 10 to 14 players. It is a direct descendant of baseball although there are some key differences: softballs are larger than baseballs, and the pitches are thrown underhand rather than overhand...

  — and the dough softer and wetter, with a bright yellow color. A tamal tolimense is served for breakfast with hot chocolate
Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate is a heated beverage typically consisting of shaved chocolate, melted chocolate or cocoa powder, heated milk or water, and sugar...

, and may contain large pieces of cooked carrot
The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh...

 or other vegetables, whole corn kernels, rice
Rice is the seed of the monocot plants Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima . As a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and the West Indies...

, chicken
Chicken (food)
Chicken is the most common type of poultry in the world, and is prepared as food in a wide variety of ways, varying by region and culture.- History :...

 on the bone and/or chunks of pork
Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig , which is eaten in many countries. It is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC....

. A related food is the envuelto or bollo, which is often made of yucca
Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. Its 40-50 species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry parts of North...

 flour cooked in a corn husk, and resembles a Mexican tamal more closely but has simpler fillings or no filling at all.

Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

 has a variety of tamales and humitas; they can be filled with fresh cheese, pork, chicken or raisin
Raisins are dried grapes. They are produced in many regions of the world. Raisins may be eaten raw or used in cooking, baking and brewing...

s. Ecuadorian tamales are usually wrapped in corn husk or achira (aka Canna)
Canna (plant)
Canna is a genus of nineteen species of flowering plants. The closest living relations to cannas are the other plant families of the order Zingiberales, that is the gingers, bananas, marantas, heliconias, strelitzias, etc.Canna is the only genus in the family Cannaceae...



Conkies are a corn-based, cookie-like food item popular in the West Indies. The ingredients include corn flour, coconut, sweet potato, and pumpkin, and the dough is baked by steaming in banana leaves...

 are a corn-based, Cookie/Tamale-like delicacy popular in the West Indies. The ingredients include corn flour, coconut, sweet potato, and pumpkin, and the dough is baked by steaming in banana leaves. Conkies are thought to have originated in West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

, where a similar type of kenkey
Kenkey or Dokonu or Komi is a staple dish similar to a sourdough dumpling from the Akan, Ga and Ewe inhabited regions of West Africa, usually served with a soup, stew, or sauce. Areas where Kenkey are eaten are southern Ghana, eastern Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, western Benin and Jamaica. It is usually...

 known as dokompa is popular in Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...


In Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

, conkies were once associated with the old British colonial celebration of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5. In modern Barbados they are eaten during Independence Day celebrations on November 30.

In Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia is an island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. Part of the Lesser Antilles, it is located north/northeast of the island of Saint Vincent, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. It covers a land area of 620 km2 and has an...

 it is called Paime, it is usually associated with Jounen Kweyol
Jounen Kwéyòl
Jounen Kwéyòl is a Saint Lucian festival that celebrates Creole culture. It is held on the last Sunday of October across the entire island, and has been held annually since 1984...

(Creole Day) which is on the last Sunday of October every year.


Chinese cuisine includes the zongzi
Zongzi is a traditional Chinese food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. Laotians, Thais, and Cambodians also have similar traditional dishes. In the Western world, they are also known as rice...

which is an equivalent of the tamal but made with glutinous rice and a variety of fillings including pork, chestnuts, mung beans, peanuts, and mushrooms.

Malaysia and Indonesia

Malay cuisine includes the Otak-otak
Otak-otak is a cake made of fish meat and spices. It is widely known across Southeast Asia, where it is traditionally served fresh, wrapped inside a banana leaf, as well as in many Asian stores internationally - being sold as frozen food and even canned food.-Distribution:Otak-otak is found in...

which is made of fish meat. Otak-otak is made by mixing fish paste (usually mackerel) with a mixture of spices. In Indonesia, the mixture contains fish paste, shallots, garlic, green onions, egg, coconut milk, and sago flour or can be substituted for cassava starch. While in Malaysia, it is a mixture between fish paste, chillies, garlic, shallots, turmeric, lemon grass and coconut milk. The mixture is then wrapped in a banana leaf that has been softened by steaming, then grilled or steamed.


In India there are many types of tamales. It is usually cooked during festival seasons. It is different names in different parts of the country, such as "modhak", "kolukattai" and "momo". Ingredients added to the tamal in India include glutinous rice dough, coconut, jaggery, sugar or salt and some beans or pulses. The southern Indian province of Kerala is famous for a variety of "ada" (not the same as the Tamil 'ada') which uses rice-flour, grated coconut, sugar/jaggery, spices and a variety of additional fillings such as jackfruit and bananas, all wrapped up in banana leaf and steamed or roasted.


An indigenized version of the Mexican tamal, the Filipino
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 tamal is a steamed delicacy made with a mixture of ground white and brown (toasted) rice, ground peanuts and coconut milk topped with strips of chicken, chorizo and slices of hard boiled eggs and wrapped in banana leaves.
The municipality of Ibaan in Batangas province is known for this delicacy. The fillings used include chicken, but neither eggs nor chorizo.


Paturi is a famous dish among the Bengali people
Bengali people
The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal in South Asia. They speak Bengali , which is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী...

. It is a dish where fish is marinated in a mustard paste, wrapped in a plaintain leaf and steamed, just like a Mexican tamal. In the case of Ilish fish (a favourite fish of Bengalis), it is often wrapped in a pumpkin leaf and is eaten along with the leaf.


Among Newar communities in Nepal, the moist ground black gram paste is wrapped in colocasia leaf and steamed. Later, they fry it and dip it in a curry sauce (fried onion, tomato, a little mustard paste, ginger and other spices mixed and boiled with water). While frying, the wrapper is firmly mixed with black gram paste and need not be removed.

United States

Tamales have been eaten in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 since at least 1893, when they featured at the World's Columbian Exposition
World's Columbian Exposition
The World's Columbian Exposition was a World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. Chicago bested New York City; Washington, D.C.; and St...

. A tradition of roving tamal sellers was documented in early 20th century blues music. They are the subject of the well-known 1937 blues/ragtime song "They're Red Hot
They're Red Hot
"They're Red Hot" is a song originally performed and written by blues musician Robert Johnson. Notably, it is one of very few songs recorded by the bluesman that is not based around twelve bar blues. It is based on a common ragtime chord progression...

" by Robert Johnson.

While Mexican-style and other Latin American-style tamales feature at ethnic restaurants throughout the United States, there are also some distinctly regional, indigenous American styles.

Semi-sweet tamales, wrapped in banana leaves and called guanimes, are found in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...


In the Mississippi Delta
Mississippi Delta
The Mississippi Delta is the distinctive northwest section of the U.S. state of Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. The region has been called "The Most Southern Place on Earth" because of its unique racial, cultural, and economic history...

, African-Americans developed a spicy tamal made from cornmeal
Cornmeal is flour ground from dried maize or American corn. It is a common staple food, and is ground to fine, medium, and coarse consistencies. In the United States, the finely ground cornmeal is also referred to as cornflour. However, the word cornflour denotes cornstarch in recipes from the...

 (rather than masa), which is boiled in corn husks.

In Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, unique tamales made from machine-extruded cornmeal wrapped in paper are sold at Chicago-style hot dog
Chicago-style hot dog
A Chicago-style hot dog, or Chicago Dog, is a steamed or water-simmered all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois...

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