Tamales. A Costa Rican holiday tradition none should miss.

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Después de cocinar, los tamales se dejan reposar un par de horas. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506

It all starts with careful planning to make sure the right ingredients are at hand. Then, families gather to put together a production line that only answers to the call of the Tamal. Many stories, laughs, and good food will entertain the workers who’s only motivation is the unique taste of that delicious dish which only happens in December and only that secret family recipe can bring to life. The tamales are then divided between family members and gifted to friends that look forward to that delicacy every year.

This small photography essay shows all the steps of the preparation of the tamales at the Ramos Cordero house, where the photographer has enjoyed many Christmases of the process but especially the best tamales in Costa Rica (according to the photographer of course!). We reproduce this essay in honor of Manuel Antonio Ramos, who always made sure his family could enjoy his mother’s recipe for tamales, perfected by his wife and executed by his daughters, granddaughters, and grandchildren (and nieces).

Finding good banana leaves is essential to a good tamal. They must be whole because big pieces are needed to protect the precious dish but also well cooked to give that special. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
Finding the ingredients involves a trip to the Farmers Market and the butcher. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
Some people still make their own corn dough from scratch, which involves grinding corn with other ingredients. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
Small pieces of banana leaves are the first to line up for preparation. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
Each family recipe involves different ingredients, the basic ones are rice, meat and the dough. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
Each ingredient is carefully placed in the tamal, following a strict order. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
It is a family affair. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
A lineup of tamales is a fun sight. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
The tamales are wrapped in bigger banana leaves and tied in pairs, called piñas. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
The cooking process takes up to a couple of hours, usually in a fire or stove outside the house and in very big pots. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506
After cooking, tamales are left to rest for a couple of hours. Monica Quesada Cordero / El Colectivo 506

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A previous version of this piece was published in Nature Landings, the in-flight magazine of Nature Air.

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