By Angela Padrón
Mouth-watering, decadent meals are one of the most well-known parts of celebrating Christmas in Latin America. During the days leading up to Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, it’s best to save up your appetite because your stomach will be filled with some of the most delicious foods you’ve ever tasted!
Food can vary depending on the country and region in which you live. For example, in Mexico, you’ll find tamales at every dinner table. Tamales are made with seasoned meat that is wrapped in cornmeal dough and steamed in corn husks. Other sweeter variations are made with nuts and raisins. In the Caribbean and Central America, tamales may be called hallacas, bollos, or pastel en hoja. These versions are wrapped in plantain leaves instead of cornhusks.
In Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, barbecued pig is on the menu. This is known as lechón asado. People eat this tender meat accompanied by moro (rice and black beans), plátanos (plantains), niño envuelto (stuffed cabbage), and other delicious side dishes. In South America, people often cook asado, which is a variety of grilled meats. In Colombia, ajiaco—a traditional chicken soup made with heavy cream and capers—is a delicacy.
Don’t forget to save room for desserts—and there’s no stopping at just one tasty treat! Traditional desserts can include a variety of sweet breads, such as buñuelos. This is fried dough that can be flavored with anise and topped off with powdered sugar or honey. In some countries, cassava is placed in the dough, while in Mexico, buñuelos are made with flour tortillas and piloncillo, which is an unrefined whole cane sugar in the form of a syrup.
Pan dulce is another dessert favorite in some South American countries. It’s a vanilla bread with nuts, almonds, raisins, chocolate chips, and dried fruits. People in Ecuador love to eat pristiños, buñuelos con miel with chocolate milk, and humitas. Farofas with dried fruits and cuscus is common in some countries. Other Latin American holiday desserts include arroz con dulce, which is rice cooked with spices, sugar and coconut milk, and a kind of custard called tembleque.
Need something to wash down all of this great food? If you’re in Mexico or Central America, try a champurrado or atole, which is a thick drink made with hominy flour, or masa, cinnamon and piloncillo. You may see Puerto Ricans drinking a coquito. No, we’re not talking about devouring a small frog; coquito is a drink similar to eggnog, but made with coconut milk and rum. Other egg-based drinks common throughout Latin America are poncho crema in Venezuela, rompope in Mexico, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, and cola de mono in Chile. Other drinks include beer, wine, and a hard apple cider called cidra.
The foods may be different in each Spanish-speaking country, but one thing’s for certain—after the festivities have ended, you may have to poke another notch in your belt to accommodate your full stomach!