Colombian Tamales for Lunch

“It feels like Sunday mornings,” she said, her eyes smiling and looking at the tamal in front of her.

This is what the tamal does to my friend – it transports her to her childhood in Bogota, Colombia. I was just happy to be there on a Tuesday afternoon to get some of that homemade tamales she offered to share with me.

Ximena (pronounced hee-meh-na) offered to share homemade tamales her Colombian friend made with (lucky) me for lunch. Namely, tamales Tolimenses (from the Tolima region in Colombia).

Unlike Mexican tamales wrapped in corn husk, this tamal was wrapped in plantain leaves which imparted a smoky-leafy flavor to the masa (corn filling). The bundle was then wrapped in aluminum foil for reinforcement.

The visible ingredients in the bundle were: chicken, beef, pork (rib meat and belly), garbanzo beans, carrots, and a blast of flavor (which I’m told, comes from the magical blend of garlic, onion, scallion, bell pepper and other secret ingredients). If I somehow get the recipe from my friend’s friend, I’ll post it. Promise.

Now back to the eating. Every bite registered comfort – savory, tender and packed with complex flavors. The kind that permeates your soul and gives it a warm hug.

“We would eat this with arepa and hot chocolate on Sunday mornings,” Ximena continued. Apparently, it’s common practice to preorder tamales from shops or bakeries in Colombia and then pick them up for breakfast on the weekends. It’s a different matter though on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve – many households buckle down and make their own.

By the way, “sweet water,” a simple concoction of hot water and panela valluna (unrefined cane sugar), proved to be the perfect drink with the tamales.  Not bad for Tuesday lunch.

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