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You can find tamales almost anywhere in San Antonio and South Texas — especially around the holidays. And that isn’t much different than when our ancestors discovered them thousands of years ago, according to a local academic expert.
Ellen Riojas Clark, a professor in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the food dates all the way back to 8000 B.C. in Mesoamerica.
Tamales became a daily food for indigenous people for two reasons: 1) it could be made with one ingredient — corn, and 2) it could be considered “fast food” by the way it’s made and how easily it can be eaten.
“Back then, whatever ‘back then’ was, it was just this daily food. And then as they started adding other ingredients to them, it became more specialized and even the kings and royalty would eat tamales in a very special way,” Professor Clark said.
Today, almost every region in Latin American have their own version of a tamale — filled with everything from peppers and olives in Puerto Rico to pork or beans here in South Texas.
“Each tamale is made by hand. And it’s wrapped up just like a gift. So it is a gift that you unwrap and then you savor that that smell and that visual aspect of looking at your gift. And then, of course, el sabor, the taste of a tamale. It’s fabulous,” said Professor Clark.
Learn more about the history of tamales in the video above.