What Goes Good with Tamales?

Tamales, those delightful parcels of masa and flavorful fillings wrapped in corn husks, are a staple in many households, especially during festive seasons. But have you ever wondered what pairs perfectly with these savory treats? Whether you’re hosting a tamale feast or simply enjoying a few for dinner, the right accompaniments can elevate your tamale experience to a whole new level.

From classic sides like refried beans and Spanish rice to refreshing beverages and vibrant salsas, there’s a world of flavors that complement tamales beautifully. In this article, I’ll explore some of the best pairings that not only enhance the taste but also bring out the rich cultural heritage behind every bite.

The Appeal of Tamales

Tamales are more than a delectable dish; they’re a staple of Mexican cuisine. People enjoy them for their savory flavors, rich history, and regional variations.

History and Popularity

Tamales boast a history that spans thousands of years. Ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans crafted these portable meals using maize dough wrapped in corn husks. Over time, tamales gained popularity across Latin America. Today, they symbolize not only delicious food but also tradition and communal gatherings. Families pass down tamale recipes through generations, preserving cultural practices and culinary techniques.

Regional Varieties

Regional varieties of tamales offer a taste of local flavors. In Mexico alone, there are countless versions. In Oaxaca, tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and filled with mole. In the Yucatán Peninsula, people enjoy tamales colados, known for their strained dough. Meanwhile, in Central and South America, tamales come with unique fillings and wraps, reflecting each region’s ingredients and preferences. These variations highlight the diversity and creativity in tamale preparation.

Best Sides to Pair with Tamales

Pairing sides with tamales elevates the meal, showcasing Mexican cuisine’s versatility and flavors. Here’s a look at some of the best options.

Salsas and Sauces

Complement tamales with salsas and sauces for added flavor depth. Salsa roja and salsa verde are popular choices, with the former made from tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers, while the latter uses tomatillos. Mole sauce, with its rich and complex blend of spices and chocolate, offers a unique taste. Guacamole, combining avocados, lime juice, and cilantro, provides a creamy contrast.

Vegetables and Salads

Balance the richness of tamales with fresh vegetables and salads. A simple mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers adds a refreshing crunch. Grilled vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, and corn bring smoky flavors to the plate. For a traditional touch, nopales salad, made from cactus paddles, tomatoes, and onions, adds a unique texture.

Complementary Main Dishes

Pairing tamales with other main dishes can create an enriching culinary experience. The right combination accentuates the flavors of tamales while adding depth to the meal.

Proteins That Enhance Tamales

Robust proteins amplify the rich taste of tamales. Grilled steak, such as carne asada, provides a smoky flavor that complements tamales perfectly. Slow-cooked meats like barbacoa and carnitas offer tender, juicy textures that merge well with the maize-based tamale dough. For poultry, roasted chicken with a hint of citrus or spicy chipotle chicken adds a zesty contrast. Seafood enthusiasts might enjoy shrimp seasoned with garlic and lime, creating a fresh yet savory pairing.

Vegetarian Options

Vegetarian options introduce fresh, vibrant flavors that balance the dense tamale dough. Stuffed bell peppers, filled with quinoa or black beans, are both hearty and nutritious. Portobello mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinegar can be grilled to add a meaty texture. Vegetable fajitas with bell peppers and onions sautéed in olive oil bring a delightful crunch. Additionally, a mixed bean casserole, featuring kidney, black, and pinto beans, provides a protein-rich accompaniment.

Beverages to Serve with Tamales

Pairing the right beverages with tamales enhances their flavors and completes the dining experience. Considering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options provides a well-rounded selection for guests.

Alcoholic Pairings

Beer, especially lighter varieties, complements tamales’ rich flavors. Mexican lagers like Corona or Dos Equis provide a crisp contrast. For more depth, opt for amber ales or dark beers like Negra Modelo. Margaritas, with their blend of tequila and citrus, also pair well. Red wine, particularly medium-bodied varieties like Merlot or Zinfandel, can match heartier tamales.

Non-Alcoholic Choices

Agua frescas, traditional Mexican fruit drinks, offer refreshing options. Flavors like hibiscus (jamaica) or tamarind balance tamales’ savory taste. Horchata, a sweet rice milk, also pairs nicely. For a warm choice, serve Mexican hot chocolate, known for its rich texture and cinnamon notes. Iced tea, both black and herbal, provides a versatile and lighter option for balancing tamales’ flavors.


Exploring the perfect pairings for tamales can elevate your dining experience to new heights. From traditional salsas and mole sauces to refreshing agua frescas and robust red wines there’s a world of flavors that complement the rich taste of tamales. Whether you’re hosting a festive gathering or enjoying a quiet meal at home these thoughtful accompaniments can transform your tamale feast into an unforgettable culinary adventure. So next time you indulge in tamales don’t hesitate to experiment with different sides and drinks to discover your favorite combinations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the historical significance of tamales?

Tamales have deep roots in ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans. They were often used as portable food for armies, hunters, and travelers, and hold cultural importance in community gatherings and celebrations.

What are common accompaniments for tamales?

Tamales are commonly paired with salsas, mole sauce, guacamole, and various salads. These accompaniments enhance the flavors and provide a balanced meal.

Which alcoholic beverages pair well with tamales?

Mexican lagers, amber ales, margaritas, and red wines are excellent alcoholic pairings. These choices complement the savory and rich flavors of tamales.

Are there non-alcoholic drink options that go well with tamales?

Yes, non-alcoholic options like agua frescas, horchata, Mexican hot chocolate, and iced tea are great choices. These drinks balance the savory taste of tamales and provide a refreshing experience.

Why are tamales a symbol of tradition and community?

Tamales are often made in large batches for festivals, family gatherings, and special occasions. The process of making them typically involves multiple family members, fostering a sense of community and tradition.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top