By Gian Franco 2021-02-08

Filipino Tamales is an Underrated Delicacy that You Should Try

This is different from its Mexican cousin yet tastier and heartier.

Although Spanish cuisine has a heavy influence on what may be considered a traditional Filipino food, some dishes and delicacies were inherited from cultures as ancient and as far away as the Mesoamerica. Tamal or tamale (plural: tamales) has been part of Mesoamerican diet for 10,000 years and sustained great civilizations that came before the Mayans and Aztecs. The latter civilizations carried over this culinary tradition of previous cultures; they celebrated festivals and performed rituals in the name of tamale.


During the Manila Galleon Trade between Mexico and China, trading ships carrying porcelain, silk, spices, and a variety of exotic goods would return to Mexico via the Philippines. Manila was the commercial hub of Asia at that time; the West traded in the old city and came in contact with Filipinos. Through time, Mexicans brought their traditional cuisine with them and Filipinos were able to follow the recipes while using ingredients that are commonly available in the countryside.


Today, the Filipinos tamales is vastly different from the original Mexican dish. The Filipino version of this delicacy comes from the province of Pampanga where it is called “bobotu” in Kapampangan. Filipino tamales are made out of rice dough instead of corn dough. The Filipino tamale has a cacophony of savory flavors on top of the tender and sticky dough, held together and wrapped using banana leaves instead of corn husks. Depending on the region, some variations may use flaked chicken, pork ham strips, salted egg slices, or combination of everything as toppings. Other variations differ in texture and thickness, often mixing toasted and grounded peanuts into the dough for that crunchy interior. This recipe from Kawaling Pinoy highlights chicken flakes and peanut butter to add savory and nutty taste.



  • ½ lb chicken
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth (reserved from cooking the chicken)
  • 2 ¼ cups rice flour
  • 1 tbsp atsuete powder, diluted in 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered


Get these ingredients from My Tindahan here.


  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, add chicken and enough water to submerge.  Bring to a boil, skimming scum from the simmering stock. Let the broth clear and settle. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Turn down the heat and cover. Let it simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Drain the saucepan but set aside 1 cup of the broth. Allow the chicken to cool to touch then flake.
  3. In a wide pan over medium heat, sauté garlic and onions until softened and aromatic.
  4. Add coconut milk and chicken broth. Bring to a gentle boil.
  5. Slowly add rice flour and whisk the mixture vigorously to prevent lumps. Allow to cook while stirring regularly for about 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture is smooth and thick paste.
  6. Set aside 2/3 of the mixture for later. For the remaining 1/3 of the mixture, add dissolved annatto and peanut butter. Stir well until combined and color is evenly distributed.
  7. For the wrapper: wash banana leaves and wipe off any dirt or impurities with clean, dry cloth. Briefly pass the leaves over gas flames or soak in hot water until soft and pliable. Set aside.
  8. Scoop about 2 tbsp of plain mixture and gentle spread it on banana leaf about 3-inches wide.
  9. Scoop about 1 tbsp of the colored mixture and carefully spread on top of the plain mixture.
  10. Top with pieces of flaked chicken and sliced hard-boiled eggs. Fold banana leaves over the tamale mixture to wrap. Tie with kitchen twine to hold in place.
  11. Arrange tamales on steamer basket and steam for about 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked. Alternatively, use a pot and add enough water to cover. Boil for about 20 to 30 minutes over medium heat.
  12. Carefully remove tamales from heat. Let it sit at room temperature for 1 or 2 minutes to set a little. Best served warm.  


Photo courtesy of Kawaling Pinoy.



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