Why you should stop saying “tamale”

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What do you call this?

tamal

If you said “tamale,” you’re right but not exactly. The above food is a tamal, not a tamale. It’s like spelling potatoe instead of potato, a reader pointed out to me in an email today.

pasteladagroupShe had written in in response to a story I write about pasteles, the traditional Puerto Rican tamales that I learned how to make with a group of Puerto Rican women in Northwest Austin. (Aren’t they adorable?)

In one of the cutlines, another editor inadvertently wrote “tamale,” and any time we accidentally publish the incorrect spelling, I get emails about it.

Pasteles are a specific kind of tamales, and you wouldn’t call a singular one of them a “pastele.” You’d call it a pastel.

Americans are learning more about all kinds of international foods, and in Texas, we have even more reason to know more about Mexican cuisine. We know what cotija cheese is. We know that Oaxacan tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, and that al pastor tacos have pineapple mixed in with the pork. We know where that new hip mezcal bar is, but we can’t stop saying “tamale.”

Even Webster’s hasn’t figured it out.

We’re in prime tamal season right now, so do yourself a favor and drop the “e.” It might take a while to get used to, but I know you can do it.

Maybe we’ll have a tamalada to celebrate.


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