Latino holiday foods tend to involve the whole family, comprising feasts that start the night before with the marinating of meats and the preparation of sauces. (Or the rising of breads. Have you heard of the Venezuelan pan de jamón?)
In the interest of cultural sharing, we’ve gathered a list of some typical Christmas food in Latin America and the Caribbean. If you don’t see yours on the list, let us know in the comments!
The star of the Christmas table in the Caribbean is lechón, or slow-roasted pork. Puerto Ricans prefer to roast the pig on a spit, while Cubans lean toward a roasting box. In both cases the meat is marinated overnight and cooked until falling-apart tender. For step-by-step instructions on building your own roasting box out of cinder blocks and aluminum siding, check out Cuban-Christmas.com.
A type of boiled dumpling eaten in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, pasteles resemble tamales, but they’re not made from corn. Pastel masa uses shredded green bananas and tubers such as yautía, yams or potatoes. The filling can contain meat, olives, peppers, spices. Pasteles are prepared in banana leaves, folded and tied with a string in neat packet. They’re then boiled in water.
3. Rosca de Reyes
This ring-shaped cake, brought to Latin America from Spain, is decorated with candied and dried fruits and eaten on January 6th, Three Kings Day. (The cake’s shape symbolizes a king’s crown, decorated with jewels.) Some Latino cultures will bake a figurine of the Baby Jesus into the cake. In Mexico, whomever finds the figurine must make tamales for their friends and family on February 2nd, Día de la Candelaria.
Eaten in Colombia during the Christmas holidays, this creamy custard is traditionally made with milk, corn starch and panela, a dark brown unrefined cane sugar. Some cooks add coconut, cheese, raisins or corn into the mix. The custard is chilled and then cut into squares or wedges. It’s customary to have buñuelos on the side—in Colombia, they’re ball-shaped fritters made with cheese. (Mexican buñuelos, by comparison, tend to be flat and crispy, and dunked in a sugar syrup.)
Tamales are steamed corn cakes wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, and they’re eaten over the holidays in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Unlike pasteles, they’re made with corn that’s been treated with slaked lime. The fillings can be sweet or savory; in Mexico especially, sweet tamales abound around this time of year. Colombia and Venezuela also eat a type of tamal called an hallaca—it’s made from corn flour or cornmeal.
6. Pan de Jamón
A buttery, soft bread eaten in Venezuela, pan de jamón is stuffed with ham, raisins, green olives and sometimes bacon. The filling is rolled up in the bread, baked and sliced into thin pieces.
Ponche, a warm, sweet punch, is imbibed over the holidays in Mexico and Guatemala. It usually contains a mix of seasonal fruits—guava, tejocote, apples—plus raisins, spices, and sometimes tamarind or hibiscus. It’s also often spiked with brandy or rum.
This rich, decadent Puerto Rican eggnog is usually made with a mix of condensed milk, evaporated milk, egg yolks, cream of coconut and/or coconut milk. (Some people add freshly grated coconut, too.) It’s served chilled and dusted with cinnamon.