The rich culture of Latin American traditional Christmas food

By GlobalVoices.org  |  Dec 22nd, 2023
This article by Gabriela Mesones Rojo, Eddie Galdamez, Kelly Chaib De Mares, Patricia Larrús originally appeared on Globalvoices.org and is being published by ElSalvadorINFO.net under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Latin American traditional Christmas food
Latin American traditional Christmas food. Photo by Thu Huynh.

The diversity of Latin American gastronomy during Christmas is as varied as homes are in the region: each family, town, city, region and country has its own traditions, rituals and recipes.

During the Christmas celebrations, the tables of the region are filled with buñuelos, liqueurs, roasts, breads, soups, sauces, tamales and other delicacies.

To celebrate the enormous Latin American gastronomic culture, we brought together collaborators from the region to talk about the traditional Christmas foods of each country; its origin, its history, and what this dish means to the culture of each country.

Hallaca (Venezuela)

Hallacas are the center of the traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish, which consists of Hallaca, chicken and potato salad, pernil, ham bread and is usually accompanied with cream punch.

The origins of hallaca have many myths and legends, and it has not really been determined how this Christmas dish came to be. The hallaca is made from a corn flour dough, seasoned with sweet chili, chicken or chicken broth and dyed yellow with onoto, filled with a stew of beef, pork and chicken or chicken.

In Venezuela, each region has different hallaca recipes and the ingredients vary in the East, the Andes, the Center and the West.

Beyond a well-known and beloved Venezuelan dish, the Hallaca is also the center of Venezuelan Christmas culture: families usually get together to make the hallacas, which can take up to three days, and each house shares its family hallacas with friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances.

Lechona (Colombia)

In all the December celebrations, Colombians taste the indispensable snacks of the season, such as natilla, a dulce de leche with panela (sugar cane), and buñuelos, fried flour balls with cheese. However, the Christmas and New Year holidays require a strong meal at night, which may vary according to the region.

Lechona is becoming more and more popular, due to its ability to feed up to 100 people. With its antecedents in the Castilian barbecue, the Andean regions of central-west Colombia, Tolima and Huila, adapted this dish to the national gastronomy, which currently consists of a complete pig stuffed with rice and peas that is cooked in a brick oven for twelve hours.

Vitel Toné (Argentina)

Over the years, Vitel Toné, a dish that was born in Italy and its name means tuna beef, has become an icon of Christmas gastronomy in Argentina. It is believed that the dish arrived in Argentina thanks to the Italian migration after the Second World War, and that it was widely adopted as a local dish due to its simple recipe and the freshness of the dish, ideal for hot decembers in the area, since in Italy this is a summer dish.

Many people in Argentina describe Vitel Toné as a flavour that reminds you of childhood.

Colemono (Chile)

At Christmas dinner in Chile, roast chicken or turkey is traditionally eaten accompanied by duchess potatoes, Easter bread, punch, Christmas cookies and fruits such as watermelon, melon, grapes, papaya, strawberries and cherries, among others. However, the favorite Christmas drink is Colemono, or Cola de Mono, a cocktail made with brandy, milk, coffee, sugar and spices.

In the book “Notes for the history of Chilean cuisine”, published in 1943, the historian Eugenio Pereira Salas states that Juana Flores is the creator of the alcoholic beverage that has become a must-see during the month of December and Christmas celebrations. Other countries in the region have a similar drink at Christmas dinner.

Fun fact: Cola de Mono is also the title of a well-known Chilean independent film, which takes place during Christmas 1986 in Santiago, Chile.

Tamales (Ecuador)

Ecuadorian Christmas food is known for the variety of the elements that make it up: there is no shortage of meat or colorful rice, various sauces and a huge variety of sweets on the table.

Tamales, however, are one of the dishes best known for evoking the Christmas spirit. The recipes have hundreds of variations, but generally they are a corn dough with lard filled with pork or chicken and wrapped in achira leaves to be cooked. In cities of the Ecuadorian Sierra such as Quito, Ambato and Loja, the tamale is always present at Christmas gatherings.

Fun fact: tamales are Ecuador’s gastronomic heritage. Here is a documentary about the complexity of its history.

Panes con pollo (El Salvador)

During Christmas, Pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, take a backseat to Salvadoran-style Panes con Pollo; this is one of the typical foods prepared by Salvadorans for the Christmas holidays.

The meal’s served at the traditional Christmas Eve family dinner vary from family to family; however, almost all households will have Panes con Pollo. Panes con Pollo is preferred to eat at any time and is offered to any visitor who shows up at the house.

Panes con Pollo is easy to make, with each household having its own way of preparing it. Preparing this dish is all about eating comfort food and having something to offer visitors. A common phrase any person will hear when visiting a Salvadoran household during Christmas is: “Do you want a Pan con Pollo?”

This article by Gabriela Mesones Rojo, Eddie Galdamez, Kelly Chaib De Mares, Patricia Larrús originally appeared on Globalvoices.org and is being published by ElSalvadorINFO.net under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.