Tamale Pie and Tamale

A Great Hispanic Tradition

Many names and many preparations. This magnificent dish from Latin America helps keep traditions alive. Making tamale recipes is a family affair. If you make it “old style” it may take hours while involving parents, cousins, brothers, sisters, and friends. If you make it “new style,” it may just take a kit or a steamer, and less time.

Many people ask me what are the main differences between a tamale and a tamale pie. I think the most important difference is that the first one is wrapped in plantain, corn, avocado, bijao or maguey leafs and uses a special dough made from the kernels of the corn that are dried and processed with lime.

Instead the pie is like a casserole that uses cornmeal. Another major difference is that the pie is baked instead of steamed or boiled.

This food has all kinds of names depending on the country you are referring to. In Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru it is tamal. Americans call it tamale.

In Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and parts of Peru they call it “Humita.” In Venezuela is the “Hallaca.” In Belize it is “bollo.” In Puerto Rico “ganime” or “pastel.” Dominicans call it also “pastel” and Mexicans call it many names, some are corunda, pata de burro, zacahuil, chak chak wah, and chanchamito.


This food has a special place in Hispanic culture. It is a central dish in many countries during Christmas, and its fame reaches many places in North, Central and South America as the most representative meal of the Latin culture.

Tamale and History

According to “La Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España” by Fray Bernardino, in the XVI century Monctezuma had servants preparing many kinds of pasteles, not only of different shapes but also with many fillings.

The Spanish name “tamal,” comes from the word “tamalli” -the Náhuatl, a language which is a dialect of the Aztecs. It means food made with corn dough.

Many may say the the word comes from Mexico just like the corn, but there is no specific evidence to conclude so.

What I’ve learnt by reading and researching is that many say the tamales date from the Spanish colonization in the XV and XVI centuries. Stories tell about slaves who used to take leftovers of the ingredients used to cook wrapped in leafs to their homes.

In the book “La Lenta Emergencia de la Comida Mexicana. Ambiguedades Criollas, 1750-1800” by José Luis Juárez López the author refers to the book “Historia Antigua de México” by Mariano Veytia which talks about a very known food specially used by the indigenous inhabitants. The author describes the food as small “pastelillos o cubiletes” made with corn dough filled with meat and fish in round form, wrapped in corn leafs and cooked in a clay pot without water.

The Peruvian anthropologist Humberto Rodríguez Pastor describes the tamale as an Afro-Peruvian legacy in his book “La Vida en el Entorno del Tamal Peruano” which translates the life surrounding the Peruvian tamal. The author talks about the tamale being introduced in Peru with the arrival of the Spaniards who came with their slaves, originally from the Atlantic coast in the African continent.

Make Tamales

Now that we know a bit more of the history of tamales lets Make Tamales with Sandra Vasquez. Follow the simple recipes and enjoy authentic Mexican tamales. Sandra Vasquez shared some of her recipes with us and helped us in the process.

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