Mexican tamales: all you need to know about them!

by Viridiana Marin Marin


Soft, tasty, sweet, hot, and filling; Mexican tamales are a delicious and very enjoyable dish. Mexico has one of the richest gastronomies in the world, offering a variety of flavors, colors, textures, and, above all, special ingredients that create unforgettable dishes.

Eating tamales during national celebrations or having them as breakfast evokes an emotional connection with our land and our roots, especially when you live far away from Mexico. 

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about tamales and where you can get them here in London. But first, let’s understand what tamales are.

What are Mexican tamales?

The word “tamale” derives from the Nahuatl word “Tamalli” which means ‘wrapped’. Tamales generally are prepared with cooked corn dough wrapped in leaves of the same corn plant, banana, avocado, or even aluminum foil or plastic. Stuffed tamales may contain meat, vegetables, chili, fruit, sauce, etc. They can also be either sweet or salty!

Tamales originated from Mesoamerica and there are different versions of tamales around the American continent, especially in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia,  and other countries of the American continent where corn is dominant in the diet.

mexican tamales

Image of mxcity

What is the Mexican tamales recipe?

Mexico has the greatest diversity of tamales,  estimated at more than 500 types of tamales around the country. It is a very popular dish and the traditional recipe of tamales can be different depending on each region. 

There are three main types of tamales in Mexico that have become one of the most popular breakfasts for the locals, especially in Mexico City: green, red, and sweet.

– Tamales verdes: ‘green ones’

Called ‘tamal verde’ because it contains a green sauce. This tamal is prepared with corn dough and filled with pork or chicken, green tomato sauce, and green chili. Before being steamed, it is wrapped in corn husks.

mexican tamales, flavors

– Tamales rojos: ‘red ones’

Unlike the green one, the ‘tamales rojos’ contain a sauce made with ‘guajillo chile’  a dried form of mirasol chili, which is the second-most commonly used dried chili in Mexican cuisine after ‘chiles anchos’.

mexican tamales, recipe

– Tamales dulces: ‘sweet ones’

Also known as pink tamales. What makes this version different is that the dough contains grated ‘piloncillo’ or sugar. It is usually served as a dessert and is a favorite among children. In the center of the country, it is prepared with a mix of lard, water, piloncillo or sugar, and raisins or pieces of fruit are added, as well as spices like cinnamon. It is wrapped in corn leaves and steamed. Usually, the dough is colored pink, but in ancient times this color was a natural dye of pre-Hispanic origin obtained from ‘cochinilla’.

When do Mexicans eat tamales?

Mexicans eat tamales for common holidays but back then, it was said to have been made for the gods. Tamal is a very popular and commonly consumed dish. In Mexico, it is common to eat tamales in the morning for breakfast and on some festivities. The most important day for eating tamales is: ‘Dia de la Candelaria’ (Candlemas Day on 2nd February). 

According to history, at the beginning of February, the birth of the Sun in the Aztec calendar was celebrated, and they used to make ceremonies where some seeds were offered to the gods asking for rain for a year of good crops. One of the rituals was to put tamales in pots whose form symbolized a pregnant woman. The fire that cooked tamales was linked to masculine strength, as a result, they had food that gave life.

Nowadays, ‘Dia de la Candelaria’ is the date that culminates the marathon of celebrations called ‘Guadalupe Reyes’, which starts from the beginning of December. Although this is the day when Mexicans eat the most tamales, the truth is that tamales in Mexico are eaten all throughout the year; tamales vendors come to your door every day offering these culinary delights with a very particular sound. Did you know it?


Where find Mexican tamales in London?

Tamales are labor-intensive, so making them is a big commitment. Thousands of Mexican families learn how to make this pre-Hispanic dish from generation to generation, creating unique recipes in each part of the country. But for all of the amigos and amigas that live in London and have been craving tamales, there you have some places where you can buy Mexican tamales:

1. Mexican mama

Mexican Mama is an online store that sells Mexican ingredients, and of course tamales. You can find different options like vegan tamales, chicken tamales, and chocolate tamales, as well as all ingredients to make them yourself if you feel comfortable cooking.  

You can order here.

2. Mama Reyna

Mama Reyna is known for offering the best quality chilli sauces with their authentic homemade taste. For this ‘Dia de la Candelaria’ they turned their kitchen into a tamales factory. The last day to order their tamales is Monday 24th of January and they have tamales wrapped in corn husks, wrapped in banana leaves, vegan, and sweet ones. 

You can order here

3. Tamali

Tamali offers handcrafted Mexican tamales, they have different options: vegetarian, vegan, sweet, and salty. They also can make a special request of filling for you. They have many packages of tamales available where you can choose flavors and quantities.

You can order here.

4. La Monarca Mexican Deli

La Monarca Mexican Deli sells authentic, ethnic, traditional Mexican food. They are also offering homemade tamales for this season for you to pick from.

You can order here

5. Delicia

Delicia brings different Mexican tamales flavors right to your doorstep. They also have a huge selection of authentic Mexican food to choose from.
You can order here.

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