A tamale or tamal is a traditional Mexican dish now widespread throughout Latin America, made of masa (a starchy dough, often corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be further filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned. Tamales were one of the staples found by the Spanish Conquistadors when they first arrived in Mexico and were soon widely spread throughout their other colonies. Tamales are said to have been as ubiquitous and varied as the sandwich is today.
In Colombia, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama they are also wrapped in plantain leaves. The masa is typically made out of maize (non-sweet corn), such as what is known as feed corn in the U.S.
There are several varieties (including most widely known tolimense as well as boyacense and santandereano). Like other South American varieties, the most common are very large compared to Mexican tamales — about the size of a softball — and the dough softer and wetter, with a bright yellow color. A tamal tolimense is served for breakfast with hot chocolate, and may contain large pieces of cooked carrot or other vegetables, whole corn kernels, rice, chicken on the bone and/or chunks of pork. A related food is the envuelto or bollo, which is often made of yucca flour cooked in a corn husk, and resembles a typical Mexican tamal more closely but has simpler fillings or no filling at all.
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