Tamales are said to have originated with the ancient Mayas. The Latin American specialty usually features masa harina, a corn-based dough, that's wrapped in a leaf or corn husk, along with a filling of meat, poultry, cheese or vegetables and/or chilies. Once the tamale is cooked and plated, the filling is eaten, the wrapper discarded.
Waiting to be unwrapped: the tamales at these Long Island restaurants:
CARACARA MEXICAN GRILL, 354 Main St., Farmingdale, 516-777-2272, caracaramex.com
The standout chicken tamale at this contemporary Mexican spot features shredded chicken, fresh corn and masa (cornmeal dough), all wrapped in a corn husk and sauced with a rich, nuanced mole. $9
MANKA PERUVIAN KITCHEN, 216 Glen St., Glen Cove, 516-801-1519, mankany.net
EL RANCHITO MEXICAN GRILL, 66 Larkfield Rd., East Northport, 631-262-9704
Delivering a lot of comfort for very little money is the chicken tamale at this sliver of a Mexican restaurant near the Northport Long Island Rail Road station. $3.25
AZULEJOS FINE MEXICAN CUISINE, 368 E. Main St., Smithtown, 631-257-5033, azulejoscuisine.org
At this Smithtown Mexican restaurant, tamales are stuffed with moist, fluffy cornmeal dough. Bundled into one is a spicy chicken and cheese mixture; the second holds a blend of jalapeno, cheese and onions. One bite of either tells you that these are no ordinary tamales.