Costa Rican Food Specialities, Tamale Memories

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225px-nacatamales_in_steamerbucket_of_tamales_smallCosta Rican Food Specialities, Tamale Memories

Many people ask me: What is the food like in Costa Rica or what are some of the Costa Rican food specialities?   Is Costa Rican food like Mexican food?  No it is not. In Costa Rica we don’t  put a lot of different hot peppers and other hot spices  like the Mexicans do.  And they use corn husks to wrap up the tamale and we use banana leaves.  Actually the tamale  originated in Mexico with the Aztec Indians.  Our food in Costa Rica  is less spicy with the exception of garlic and we eat a LOT of  garlic.   The photo to the immediate left is Mexican Tamales wrapped in corn husks. And next to it,  the Costa Rica tamale wrapped in banana leaves.

Tell me about the Christmas tradition food  in Costa Rica, What about Tamales? My first Christmas in Costa Rica as a new bride, I was so excited about the Christmas dinner and this new experience of eating Tamales.  It had been a family affair starting around 15th December, with  cleaning the large banana leaves, cooking chicken, pork, carrots, potatoes, and fresh green beans.  Then mixing the corn masa.  Put it all together  into this hugh banana leaf,  tie it with string, and cook it for hours in a pot of boiling hot water over an open fire.  Yes, this is definitely a social event, and experience of warmth and love among friends and family, creating memories to be carried throughout life and shared with our children and grandchildren.

Tamales are made in steps:  Starting with a trip down to the local “feria” (see my article  of June 7, 2009 on the local  colorful farmer’s markets)

1. Cook  all ingredients that make up the tamale filling- pork, chicken. fresh green beans, carrots, potatoes,  and then add green olives.

2. follow instructions on masa bag to mix up the dough

3. form small round dough balls and then press the cooked ingredients into the middle of the ball of masa.

4. place in banana leaf and fold the leaf around the mixture and tie up with a string.

5. Place is a large pot of boiling water and cook for several hours.  Many Costa Ricans use a large pot outside over an open fire.  That’s part of the fun!

When ready to serve reheat in a pot of hot boiling water.

Tamales can be frozen.

To really learn how to prepare Tamales, the Costa Rican way,   I asked my Costa Rican sister-in-law, along with her two daughters,  to let me have a hands on experience.  so  ten days before Christmas I went to her home and we spent the whole day making Tamales.

What do we serve with tamales?   Really it’s a meal unto itself.  But sometimes it is eaten at breakfast with refried black beans, yummy!

Read more “fun stuff” about Tamales from travel writer Marina Villatoro  under category “Foodies Delight” at

History of the Tamale.  The tamale can be traced backed to 500 B.C.  They served as nutritious and portable food for the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas.  When the Spaniards came to the new world, they became fans of the tamale and took the ideas and recipes back to Spain.  Today Tamales are found throughout Mexico , Central America, and South America.,  with each region having its own special ingredients and style.  For example  Nicaraguans mix pink colored sugar to the masa corn mix  making it colorful and festive, and they also  add raisins or other dried fruit.

If you have a great tamale story please send it to me by clicking on  comment  at the end of my article or click on reply.  I’d love to share it with my readers.

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