Guatemalan tamales have been a signature of typical cuisine, and have been here since we can all remember. Tamales from Guatemala are quite different when compared to others in Latin America, and there are a few variety to tamale-types in Guatemala depending on the region.

Tamales are a traditional dish enjoyed every weekend in Guatemala, but mostly on Saturdays in the afternoon… if you are walking by any street in Antigua Guatemala (or any other city or village in Guatemala) and you see a red light hanging off the wall in the afternoon, it means that ‘Tamales’ are ready. Tamales are also especially enjoyed during Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.

Guatemalan Tamales

There are three different variations you can choose from, Colorados or Rojos (‘Red Tamales’) this is the most popular one, Tamales Negros (‘Dark Tamales’) which are sweet tamales, Tamales Especiales de Fiesta (‘Special Holiday Tamales’) this third variation has many more ingredients than the others, enhancing the flavor, and there is ‘Pache’ Tamal, this last one is made of potato puree rather of corn as the main ingredient. Any of these types of tamale can be made from pork or chicken. 

The Guatemalan tamales are wrapped with fresh plantain leaves (like banana leaf), which give a rich flavor. Depending on the size, tamales are so rich not only in flavor but in ingredients as well, just one of them may be enough for a meal, so we would suggest to order one tamal at a time, having two on your plate may be too much.

If you are planning on preparing Tamales yourself, be aware that it may take most of the day to make them, for it is a labor-intense food to make. There are many things you have to do at the same time, so read instructions closely to follow.

Guatemalan Tamales Ingredients


  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 3-lb chicken, or 2-lb piece boneless pork
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 13 units of 14" x 14" approx pieces fresh banana (plantain) leaf
  • 1 achiote paste (2 tablespoons full of ground annatto seed and spices)
  • 5 cups corn flour
  • 1 cup rice flour (optional)
  • 1⁄4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 15-20 large pitted green olives
  • 1⁄2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced


Step 1 : The first step to make Guatemalan tamales is to prepare the corn flour. In Guatemala, you could also use rice flour instead. For this tamale recipe, we will use corn-flour and rice flour together. Heat water (3 cups of water approx, keep adding more water as it needs during the cooking process) in a large pot, then add the oil and flour. Remember to keep watching it and to stir the mixture continuously at medium/low-heat for around 20 mins. The mixture will thicken, the result should be a firm dough, but not too thick.

Step 2 : toast the pumpkin and sesame seeds until golden brown. Pumpkin seeds when browned will pop-up.

Step 3 : As soon as the flour mixture is thicken, stir it no stop for 5 mins and then remove from the stove and let cool.

Step 4 : Add the chilis (perhaps you might want to remove the seeds from the dried chilis, otherwise the tamale would taste spicy), bell peppers and tomatoes, garlic, onions, and achiote to a pot and cook covered for 35 mins at medium heat. Slowly add a little bit of sugar, salt and vinegar.

Step 5 : As soon as chilies are cooked, blend the mixture with the sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds all together in a blender machine and set it aside.

Step 6 : Cut the chicken into small pieces, add the chicken and blended sauce to a pot and then cook until the chicken is done.

Step 7 : The next step on the list is to assemble the tamales, put half a cup (or a kitchen spoon full) of the corn/rice dough with sauce in the middle of a banana leaf, top with 1 piece of chicken (or pork if that is your preference), and in top of that : 2 olives, 2 slices of pepper.

Guatemalan Tamales

Step 8 : Wrap the leafs over the tamale mixture, just as if you were wrapping up a gift box with paper or an envelope in a rectangular shape. Use a string to tie it up tightly together.

Step 9 : Finally, in a large enough pot, place all the tamales inside, use the remaining banala leaves (perhaps 3 or 4 of them) to cover all the tamales inside and steam the tamales for 45 mins. Please note that this final step depends on how many tamales you place in the pot, or how big the pot is, for if you are using a typical Guatemalan pot and place several tamales inside, the cooking time could be up to 1 hour approx.

Guatemalan Tamales

 Allow the tamales to cool, serve and enjoy with a hot cup of coffee or a traditional cup of hot chocolate !!

Note : As a healthy recommendation, we would like to suggest you to use organic and natural products to prepare your recipes. If you are in Guatemala, ask in Spanish: productos organicos guatemala .