Tamales in Panama are not the same as the Mexican tamales North Americans are used to eating.
Panama vs Mexican Tamales
- Panamanian tamales’s corn meal is much wetter and more flavorful
- Cooked in plantain and bijao leaves, not corn husks.
The first time I had Panamanian tamales I was under-whelmed. I had a real fondness for tamales, Mexican tamales.
Initially, I was not thrilled with the wetness of tamales in Panama. It is definitely more messy to eat than a Mexican tamale. Of course, it didn’t help that whomever had made them had skimped on the chicken. It was mostly cornmeal.
Over the years, I have grown to appreciate how much more flavor the “messy” cornmeal gives to the tamale. They cook the cornmeal in a well-spiced broth which gives it the flavor.
Now, whenever we find someone who is selling tamales we buy a few. We have learned now who puts an adequate amount of chicken in the tamales. And more importantly, who does not. I have never seen a tamale here made of anything but chicken.
I was visiting a family recently and saw these tamales cooking in their back yard (see photo). They made the tamales to feed a work crew at their house.
Making tamales takes quite a bit of work. Most people only make them during the holidays. It is a social activity, like cooking a meal for an American Thanksgiving.
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