The Hot Tamale Trail

The deep south of the United States of America is known for many things, one of those is its vibrant range of culinary delights that take roots in cultures from all over the world. The Mississippi is no different, though likely best known for its catfish, perhaps another dish that has become just as popular in the area is the hot tamale. So much so in fact that you can go almost anywhere in the State and find one on the ‘Hot Tamale Trail’.

A tamale is a traditional food originating in central America. Since its early days it’s managed to spread across most of America becoming a popular dish not only in Central America but in South and North America too. Because of this we now find a huge variety of different recipes, ingredients and fillings and as time has passed people have become more and more inventive with them. In the Mississippi Delta they’re usually made from cornmeal and boiled in corn husks. Pork is the favoured meat used for a filling which is likely boiled or browned before stuffed into the tamale. Like I say recipes vary wherever you go, with so many places to buy them from here it’s likely you’ll never find one the same as another.

There are many stories of how the Mississippi became a home for the hot tamale, no telling for certain what is true, perhaps it a combination of many of them. Some stories tell of soldiers returning home from the Mexican – American War in the 19th Century, after spending time in Mexico they had acquired the recipe and brought it back with them. Another tells of Mexican workers migrating to the Mississippi  to work the cotton fields in the early 20th Century, there they worked alongside African Americans who recognised the basic ingredients they used in their tamales and then went on to make their own version. Some believe the tradition goes as far back as the Native American Settlers who first lived in the area. We can’t really be sure where the local love started but it at least gives us an idea of all the hands that have helped make the food such a favourite here.

The food is served in all sorts of establishments, restaurants, snack shacks, street corners and kitchens all over Mississippi. So many places serve hot tamales that you can even follow the trail. Check out the map here, it lists all the places you can grab one on your travels so no matter where you’re thinking of seeing in the Delta you’ll be able to sample its tamales and see and taste all the different types for yourself.

They’re even available in bars and clubs, so why not find out which serve them and then combine it with some of the blues music that the Delta has become forever tied to? If you’re lucky you might get to hear a rendition of Robert Johnsons ‘They’re Red Hot’, a blues song all about Mississippi hot tamales, perfect!