Replacing banana leaves for tamales?

I can't find banana leaves near me. What can I wrap tamales in to steam?

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18 Comments

Panfusine May 5, 2012
If you have access to an Indian grocery store, they have banana leaves in the freezer section.
 
ChefOno May 5, 2012

From the NY Times:

For Mr. Arellano, non-Mexicans who glorify “authentic” Mexican cuisine, even with respectful intent, are engaging in a kind of xenophobia. “It’s a different way of keeping Mexican food separate, out of the American mainstream,” said Mr. Arellano, who calls Mexican-food purists “Baylessistas.”

Then call me a Baylessista. I'll sensor what I think of Arellano.

I've had enough "Dash-Mex" food. Not that there's anything wrong with it -- I fell in love with Jack in the Box tacos back when Jack really was in the box. But there came a point in my culinary education when I realized something was missing, there *was* a line between virtually everything north of the border and authentic Mexican food -- lard. Not something you find at Taco Bell now is it?

I've been exploring real Mexican cuisine lately. I respect Bayless because he respects the culture and the food. Ethnicity has nothing to do with it. Except if you're trying to sell books.

“Here’s what I know,” Mr. Arellano said. “If it’s in a tortilla, it’s Mexican food. If it’s made by a Mexican, it’s Mexican food.”

That's just silly. That would make every restaurant I've ever worked in and most I've patronized a Mexican joint.

 
pierino May 5, 2012
Personally I like Rick Bayless's Chicago restaurants very much, and the same goes for the Too Hot Tamales, who I adore. But because I spent most of my life in So Cal Gustavo always cracks me up with his provocateur attitude. His more serious point is the way in which Mexican food was co-opted by corporate America in the shape of Taco Bell and Doritos.
 
ChefOno May 5, 2012

I only know Arellano from the one article quoted and the first few pages of "Tacos" so, respecting your opinion, I'll try to keep an open mind. He seems insecure (Mexicans have been to the ISS so we don't all siesta under saguaros, our food is so important we've "won the war" with the U.S., whatever that means). He seems proud of Taco Bell's success -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- but it does seem to minimize the depth of the cuisine.
 
pierino May 4, 2012
Gustavo Arellano who edits the OC Weekly and has a syndicated column called Ask a Mexican, has a new book called "Taco USA" which is his history of Mexican cooking in the US. He heaps scorn on what he refers to as the "Baylessistas" which I find really amusing but he is a home boy and most of what he is writing about is Cal-Mex. He is a very funny guy by the way. And he knows his stuff.
 
pierino May 5, 2012
ChefOno of course I respect your opinion as well, and probably I shouldn't have thrown Gustavo into the banana leaf. But anyway, it's worth keeping in mind that in Mexico there is no real restaurant culture that would be comparable to the US (outside of the resorts). It's street food and familily food and familily food that's made at home and sold on the street. In LA you get a bit of that over in the Pico Union area where it might be Salvadoran or Nicaraguan as well.

You, as a chef, know that the backbone of American kitchens are the Mexican guys. They show up on time, they never call in sick, and they do everything the way you showed them. And they clean out the grease traps too. But often they bring a knowledge of a certain food from their own city/pueblo in Mexico that someone taught them and these things have a way of getting worked into menus here and there. I'm still amazed that there are no really good Mexican restaurants in New York.
 
ChefOno May 5, 2012

No, I'm glad you brought up Arellano. I don't have to agree with someone for them to make me think, often it's better the other way around anyway, as in this case.


You obviously understood what I was alluding to about Mexican cooks, well put, thank you. It is unfortunate that the Mexican economy isn't able to support restaurants like we know them. And despite what Arellano thinks, it is doubly unfortunate that we've only learned a percentage of what Mexico could teach us. The best I've been able to find has come from taquerias in sketchy neighborhoods where you can find tamales and sopes that haven't been Taco Belled.


Before I get to LA next time, if you don't mind, I'll ask for some recommendations. My SIL lives a few miles up Pico on the Hollywood / Beverly border. She knows all about the "in" places but was mugged at an ATM and now can't stomach leaving her very narrow comfort zone. I tried to trick her into going to Umami Burger once and she jumped out of the car and walked home. What I'm saying is she's useless. Okay, not totally useless. She did willingly go with me to Le Pain Quotidien -- but only had a coffee. Family…

 
amysarah May 4, 2012
Banana leaves are used for tamales in the Yucatan/southern Mexico, but also Guatemala and neighboring Central American countries. Different taste than dried corn husks (hojas) but if the latter is more accessible, it would probably be fine - unless your goal is strict authenticity, I wouldn't sweat it.
 
Denis_J May 4, 2012
These are all great suggestions. I think I will try both parchment and corn husks. I'm making Rick Bayless' red chili pork tamales and the recipe calls for banana leaves. And I can easily find the corn husks
 
HalfPint May 4, 2012
Did you look in the frozen foods section for banana leaves? I've only ever seen banana leaves frozen, not dried. Just a thought.
 
HalfPint May 4, 2012
Try bamboo leaves (for cooking) or maybe lotus leaves. It will impart a different flavor, but it should function the same way. If you can't even get those two types of leaves, try parchment paper.
 
pierino May 4, 2012
Parchment is probably the best, lowest common denominator solution.
 
ChefOno May 4, 2012

Banana leaves are a regional ingredient from southern Mexico. If a recipe calls specifically for leaves and you want to remain authentic, parchment makes the best substitute. Of course if you're going to substitute Crisco for lard anyway…

 
pierino May 4, 2012
Yes, banana leaves are specifically regional. On the other hand dried corn husks are pretty easy to find in the "Hispanic" aisle of your supermarket. No need to go all exotic.
 
ChefJune May 4, 2012
Corn husks are at least as common a wrapper for tamales I have seen in Mexico.
 
ChefOno May 4, 2012

Be aware the leaves and husks impart their own distinctive tastes and require different wrapping techniques. Try locating the leaves in an Indian or Filipino market (frozen) or simply wrap the tamales in aluminum or, better, in parchment.

 
wietje May 4, 2012
Try corn husk. I've seen people using that.
 
Denis_J May 4, 2012
That is a great idea! Thanks.
 
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