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Guatemala City, Guatemala

Tempting Tamales

Tamales—warm and moist and filled with potatoes, cheese, and shredded chicken—are classic Guatemalan street food. Just look for the little Mayan man strolling along the avenue toting a cooler and whistling, or jingling, or tooting a tiny horn. His cooler will be filled with tiny banana-leaf packages tied with string. His wife probably assembled them that morning.

Tamales are typical Mayan food and very popular in Guatemala City. Traditionally, they are made from elote (a not-very-sweet corn), mashed and mixed with water and salt, then spread thin and filled with chicken, cheese, pork, olives, tomato sauce (actually made from fresh tomatoes), capers, potatoes, or almonds. The banana-leaf wrapping keeps them well formed and dry while steaming.

Of course, the well-formed part only lasts until you open the tied banana leaves. At that point messy is best, and go ahead and eat with your fingers. When you finish this Mayan comfort food, you’ll be licking them clean.