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Tamales are generally wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves before being steamed, depending on the region from which they come.
They usually have a sweet or savory filling and are usually steamed until firm.
The Aztec and Maya civilizations, as well as the Olmeca and Tolteca before them, used tamales as easily portable food, for hunting trips, and for traveling large distances, as well as supporting their armies.
Tamales were also considered sacred as it is the food of the gods.
Most recently the roasted pepper and Monterey Jack cheese (chile con queso) tamales have become a favorite recipe.
In Panama, where they are considered one of the main national dishes, tamales are fairly large.Tamales are usually eaten during festivities such as Christmas, the Day of the Dead, Las Posadas, La Candelaria Day (February 2) and Mexican Independence Day.In Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, tamales are also wrapped in plantain leaves.According to archaeologists Karl Taube, William Saturn and David Stuart, tamales may date from the year 100 AD.They found pictorial references in the Mural of San Bartolo, in Petén, Guatemala.
Street vendors can be seen serving them from huge, steaming, covered pots (tamaleras) or ollas.