Authentic Guatemalan Tamales

Tamales - the real life of account of tackling tamales with a guatemalen friend.

With our 3000 mile move seriously towering over us and with a billion things left to do, I decided it was time for some prioritizing.  Which led me to the conclusion that I should definitely spend half of my weekend making tamales with my Guatemalan friend, Linda.  It’s something we had been meaning to do for forever, but one thing or another had always gotten in the way.  But no more!


My tamale team.




Linda took us shopping for all the ingredients the day before and I was continuously surprised by what she put in the my cart.  Pumpkin seeds?  Dried plums?  But I figured she knew what she was doing, so I just rolled with it. She took us to a small store that sells Hispanic foods and showed us where to buy frozen plantain leaves. The lady at the register looked at me skeptically and asked me with thick accent, through an air of skepticism, “You make tamales?”.  I assured her that I was going to learn.


We toasted everything under the sun for the sauce.  Red tomatoes, green tomatoes, garlic, onions, cloves, cinnamon, bell peppers, dried chiles, bread, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.  Seriously, we toasted everything.


Making tamales

Linda assures me this is an essential part of the process.  Apparently, her auntie makes the sauce without toasting the ingredients first and “es no as good”.


Once we’re finished toasting, we start blending.


Making tamales

Making tamales

And then we have to mix it all together.


Making tamales

Then she sifted it all through a strainer, like three times.  Apparently this is also very important.  The consistency of the sauce must be just so.  No crumbly bits.  So we mixed and we strained and we mixed and we strained.  Until she finally approved.


Making tamales

We cooked rice, we cooked grits, we put whole sticks of butter in everything and hefty amounts of “chicken flavor”.  And then we made the tamale mix.  Which apparently is basically corn flour and water.  That you can’t stop stirring.  No matter what. Or the world ends.  Or something.

Making tamales

So Linda turned some Shakira on her phone and we stirred and cha cha-ed it out.

Making tamales

Linda told us that in Guatemala the families all work together to make tamales on Saturday, to eat throughout the week.  She said the ladies do all the cooking but the men do the stirring, with paddles as big as brooms.  Giant vats of tamales.  She said they all come together in one house to cook tamales for Christmas and everyone pitches in ingredients.


Her son called and she put him on speaker phone and prodded him into asking me “coma esta”.  I manage a weak “muy bein” in return. Her son is 12 or 13 and still lives in Guatemala.  She sends him phone cards to call her with every Sunday and she sends him and her daughter money every week, paying for their clothes, their school, and sending them extra gifts.


When she hangs up the phone she asks, “What is xbox? He ask for me to send him xbox and fifa. What is this? Es expensive?”

Finally, with our chicken, sauce, and tamale mix ready, we can wrap them.  But not before we cut a billion plantain leaves.


Making tamales

Linda tells me I’m a fast learner.


Making tamales

At the last minute the olives, dried plum, raisins, and bell peppers soaked in vinegar go on top.

Making tamales

We filled two giant pots full of tamales.


Making tamales

When I asked how long we should steam them Linda says, “Until the leaves are cooked”. I can’t find that on my clock anywhere.


Making tamales

And finally, after nearly 6 hours, we had glorious, hot, tamales.



The picture doesn’t do it justice. I have to admit, they blew me away.  I didn’t expect to like them that much.  I expected to feel pretty passively about them.  But I was oh so wrong.  The sweet of the plum, the salty of the mix, the tang of the sauce.  It was a fiesta in my mouth.


Also, my words don’t do the process justice.  There were so many nuances in the preparation.  So many little extra steps that I didn’t understand the necessity for but just kept my mouth shut because I figured if you grow up in Guatemala you know a thing or two about tamales.

Making tamales


Over all, I think it was an excellent use of one of my last Sundays in Georgia.  Wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else. ;)




  1. Janessa Landeck says:

    WOW. That looks awesome. We lived in Guatemala and every morning the tamale woman would be up with the roosters yelling “TAMALES” for everyone’s breakfast. Great memories.

  2. Those look amazing. We used to live next door to a friend from Panama and his mother would make Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice). You would think it was simple. Chicken + seasonings + rice. But no- it was a 5 hour process that included olives, tomatillos, and all kinds of weird stuff. But it was the most amazing rice I’ve ever tasted.

  3. Shannon says:

    My son was adopted from Guatemala and I love to see recipes from there. I’m not sure I could conquer this one, though! Oh, how I love tamales!

    • Jessica says:

      Aww, that’s so sweet. Really, the reason it takes so long is because they always make a LOT. I think if you made much less of them, it wouldn’t be quite as intensive.

  4. Jealous!! Those look awesome!

  5. I will be trying this soon! Can’t wait! Thanks for the pictures, it is certainly helpful when attempting a new recipe.

  6. Christopher William McAvoy says:

    Having some ancestry from people who live in the marvelous (yet troubled) nation full of marimba melody I can confirm that your recipe is very close to my own and is from I quickly see skimming through – entirely authentic. There are perhaps one or two secret tips and additions that can make it a little more outstanding, but this is rare to find in english the recipe like yours here. Congratulations !

  7. Josie Clark says:

    Im from Guatemala my mom was from Jutiapa Asuncion Mita and I ve never seen my grandmother use the plums or the raisins only in the sweet tamales but then I guess it all depends on what part of Guatemala they are from….its the best way to work together as a family…….

  8. a coworker used to sell Guatemalan style tamales by the dozen to raise funds for his church. homemade tamales are to die for. Homemade Guatemalan tamales are to kill for! lol

  9. Looks super yummy!!! How did you make the tamale batter mix?

  10. Do you have the receipe for these?

  11. Those look very good, thank god I’m Guatemalan love making tamales they’re delicious!

  12. I’ve been looking for this recipe. Familia de mi novio makes these for Navidad. They are SO delicious. I want to surprise him and make some. Can I please get your recipe? Thanks so much!

  13. I grew up in Guatemala and would give a LIMB to taste the authentic tamales again. Seeing the photos started SUCH drooling you wouldn’t believe. I lived there mid 60’s – mid 70’s and have been on a magical memory tour today and this site is one.

  14. I must find your friend when I go to Georgia. I grew up in Guatemala and have amazing memories of my grandmother’s tamales. I now live in China and have not had these for years! I’m sure you made her day. Sharing something as dear as our favorite food to someone that can appreciate it and love it just as much is priceless. Thank you!


  1. […] I told you she has a great smile. I’m asking God for a miracle for Linda. Until then, we’ll skype.  And make tamales. […]