Monday, December 20, 2004

The Costa Rican Christmas tamal

Ana Valverde fills chicken tamales. Photo by A.M. Costa RicaThe top Christmas treat requires a production line

By Saray Ramirez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

No Christmas is complete in Costa Rica without tamales, and the tradition includes small home factories that turn out the delicious banana-wrapped parcels.

In Aserri, in the mountains south of San Jose, the Valverde family and the Tamalera Valverde have been producing tamales for 52 years.

Librado Valverde Morales, the current owner, actually was born amid the tamales.

The operation produces 3,000 to 4,000 tamales a day, and the family members and helpers work seven days a week as Christmas approaches.

The dough must be prepared and the dough is filled with chicken, pork, rice and other vegetables. Then the soon-to-be tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and cooked and steamed in a wood-fired stove.

To eat, the tamales are reheated, and Costa Ricans prefer to use boiling water. They let Gringos use the microwave because many feel the modern appliance dries out the tamales. Be careful not to let the water penetrate the banana leaves and ruin the tamales, they warn.

The tamales mark a special moment when the whole family from youngsters to grandparents participate together in the making of the traditional food.

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