They say in Colombia that you should “eat breakfast like a king, have lunch like a prince, and eat dinner like a beggar”. It’s of no surprise then, that one of the typical options for a traditional Colombian breakfast is the tamal. Due to its sheer size , the tamal is normally a Sunday morning fare. That’s not to say that you can’t have it during the week, I’ve certainly broken tradition and had tamales on a weekday morning, but it’s certainly not a quick up and go, eggs and toast type of breakfast.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of tamales in Colombia, varying even from town to town. Tamales are generally made with masa (dough made from corn or rice depending on the region), chickpeas or yellow peas, chicken, pork belly, egg, and vegetables. The ingredients are then wrapped in a plantain leaf and steamed in a huge pot for several hours. The end result looks like this:
In Bogota, the most common tamal you’ll find is the Tamal Tolimense (from the region of Tolima). You can recognise these gems by their shape; they are roundish and wrapped up like a bulb. The other type of Tamal you’ll come across in Bogota is the Santafereno which can be identified by its rectangular shape.
Like pizza in New York, you won’t need to walk further than a couple of blocks to find a Tamal in Bogota. Pop into your local bakery for a quick fix or even supermarkets such as Exito and Carulla now sell Tamales that you can take home and steam. While the supermarket/frozen variety still tastes pretty good, there is nothing compared to getting a Tamal at a traditional Desayunadero (breakfast restaurant), such as La Puerta Falsa, where Anthony Bourdain dined during his visit to Bogota.
Whether you’re dining in or going to a traditional restaurant , make sure you wash down your Tamal on a Sunday morning with a big mug of hot chocolate and almojabana (Colombian cheese bread).