MEXICO CITY ( Associated Press) – Mexican Nicolás Cuatenkos thinks about it when he has to decide what to have for breakfast, but he always gravitates toward what has been his childhood weakness. There’s: Tamales. Corn dough stuffed with sauce with some meat or vegetables prepared from corn or banana leaves, which flavor the city landscape and employ an army of street vendors who live off the hunger of others.
At least three times a week, Cuetenkos, a 45-year-old public bus driver, stops before work on Mexico City’s crowded streets. He usually stops at a tamale sale to buy “guazolota,” these traditional treats inside the home of a family in a popular northeastern neighborhood of the city. It is a typical dish of the capital that consists of a tamale inside a bun, which is one of the passions of the Mexican people.
“The flavor, the dough, it’s all great,” said Cuetenkos with a smile when talking about his taste for tamales. When he was a child his grandmother used to prepare him for family parties and religious festivals such as Día de la Candelaria, which is celebrated on February 2.
On that date, Mexican families gather to eat tamales, usually courtesy of the person who received the doll on January 6 at the Rosca de Reyes. But tamales aren’t just for special occasions.
Due to their rich flavor and high calorie content, tamales occupy a special place in the Mexican daily diet and have become a source of work for many street vendors. They set out at dawn to offer them in steaming pots called “tamaleras”, which clog the exits of the capital’s metro stations or with their tricycles they spread a scent through the city streets that provokes food.
The dish, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times when the Olmecs, Mexicas and Mayans used it in religious rituals, offerings and tombs, has managed to survive through the centuries with some variations in its ingredients, such as lard and Pork use. that the Spanish brought to America after the conquest.
Although the tamale, which comes from the Nahuatl word “tamalli”, meaning wrapped, is eaten in many Latin American and Caribbean countries with names such as “humita”, “pamonhas”, “halaca” and “guanim”, in Mexico The dish reached a superior dimension because of the great diversity, said Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, a renowned chef and researcher of traditional Mexican cuisine, who has identified some 25 families of the tamale, divided into different types that differ in ingredients, packaging and shape. vary according to ,
In the Latin American country alone, hundreds of varieties of salty and sweet tamales can be found from north to south of the region, wrapped in leaves of corn, banana or other plants, filled with green and red sauces, which are made from tomatoes. There are and chili peppers, greens and guajillo. They may also have pork, chicken, duck, turkey or shrimp, beans, mole and vegetables such as poblano or jalapeño peppers, chard, chaya—known in Mexico as tree spinach—and pumpkin blossoms.
In sweet versions, it is filled with chocolate and fruits such as pineapple, strawberry, coconut, blackberry and mango.
“The roots of the tamale are so deep that I don’t think it’s going to stop using it for at least this century because it’s not a separate dish, it’s the whole culture of the tamale,” Muñoz Zurita told The Associated Press when Talking about the importance of the popular dish that is part of the daily, festive and ritualistic cuisine of Mexicans.
Like his grandparents and parents, Cuatenkos said that on February 2 he would gather with his wife, children and other relatives to celebrate Candlemas Day, when the Catholic temple celebrates the Presentation of Jesus and the birth of the Virgin after the birth of the Child. Celebrate the Purification of Mary.
“My kids got dolled up in bagels, but I’ll take tamales,” said the bus driver, assuring that this is how he wants to teach his kids to keep the tradition.
The religious celebration is related to an ancient tradition in which residents would bring their ears of corn to church so that the priest could bless the grain to be planted in the agricultural cycle beginning on 2 February, which coincides with the eleventh day. The first month of the ancient Aztec calendar, when certain Tlaloc deities were worshipped.
Cuatencos is a regular customer at Tamales El Paragüitas, a small business in the popular San Felipe de Jesús neighborhood northeast of the Mexican capital. From early morning there is a long line of people who come to buy tamancha and eat before going to work or school.
From the window of a modest house that was modified to become a ticket office, every morning Arcelis Sampario and her husband sell hundreds of tamales to their neighbors and diners who come from different parts of the city and even other towns. also come. Try the popular dishes.
“We got into it out of necessity,” said Samperio, 55, who said she and her husband decided to dedicate themselves to selling tamales 13 years ago after being fired from a company where they worked. Worked as employees of
According to historical records, in pre-Hispanic times, tamales were offered to the gods and consumed by priests and nobles, but later they were integrated into the diet of the general population, especially in areas with less resources. Today is the time to make the most of it. consume.
In an effort to take the dish into the gourmet category and introduce it to middle- and upper-class tables in Mexico City, four brothers—Amelia, Antonietta, Alicia, and Alfonso Andrade Marroquín—built the first formal tamales factory in 1918. “Flor de Lys”, which soon became popular until they became the most recognized in the capital.
In a production plant operating on the outskirts of the city, some twenty workers prepare thousands of tamales every day, following carefully the specifications of the family recipe and hygiene and quality measures.
When talking about the long history of the factory, Mauricio Peralta, Marketing Director of “Flor de Lys” and fourth generation member of the family, indicated that the company’s success has been based on preserving the family recipe for decades. Inherited from the founders whose dream was to “bring tamales to the tables of kings”.
There is a possibility that the ancient saucer may disappear for a moment. That’s how Cuetenkos recognized him as he walked down a deserted street in the San Felipe de Jesus neighborhood with a bag full of tamales in green sauce and “gujolota” for breakfast.
“Tamales will live for many generations as they are passed down from generation to generation,” he concluded.