You say tamal, I say tamales
|A tamal in Loja Ecuador, photo by Nathaly Poma|
First let me clarify - tamales is the plural form of tamal. If you say you want a tamal then you want one. If you say you wish for tamales then you desire more than one. The name is derived from the Aztec language and simply translates as "wrapped." Archaeological evidence shows that people have been making them for over 7000 years!
Now on to the difference between a tamal and a humita. A humita is primarily a moist cornbread made from fresh ground corn. A tamal is sort of like a humita but made using masa harina (corn flour) and stuffed with a filling. Fillings may be savory with meat, cheese, or vegetables or they might be sweet, with a fruit filling like raisins. Generally, in Loja the filling will be meat and the presentation will have a spicy sauce on top like in the photo above. Sweet ones might be served with a drizzle of honey.
While humitas are wrapped in corn husks before steaming to cook, tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and then baked. The end result is still a moist cornbread and superficially similar in appearance but the flavors are different because of the variation in wrappers and the filling of the tamal.
Many of the restaurants around Loja serve tamales but the most famous is El Tamal Lojano. They have two locations and do a brisk business with their signature dish. Have I made you hungry yet?