Do South Americans eat turkey or a roast? Drink wine or a special cocktail for the occasion? The Latin Kitchen asked locals from different nationalities what their typical and favorite dishes are for Christmas. Wherever you are, hope you're having a happy, healthy, and peaceful navidad.
Hallacas is the answer here. In fact, when traveling in Venezuela it's one of the first questions you may get: "Have you tried hallacas yet?" The dish, a typical Christmas dish, most resembles tamales. A stuffing of cornmeal dough, pork (or other meat/fish), raisins, olives, and capers is folded in plantain leaves and then boiled or steamed. Another stuffing may be onion, egg, bell peppers. Preparing hallacas is long and intense work, so they're often made in large quantities with a large group then frozen for special occassions. The dish is served with chicken salad, pernil, and pan de jamón, a type of bread shaped like a swiss roll filled with ham, raisins, and olives.
In Guyana, Christmas is a big family occasion, celebrated with an elaborate dish of pepperpot and bread, garlic pork, and black cake. It's usually eaten after the church service on the 25th and serves as breakfast as well as lunch. Pepperpot is a type of stew where meat is boiled with lots of seasoning in cassareep, a typical Guyanese sauce (a thick black liquid made from cassava root and spices). The type of meat depends on the family, sometimes determined by religion; so Muslims may use beef; Hindus chicken, pork, or goat. Other types of meat used are wild hog, tapir (locally called bush cow) and labba paca (a type of rodent). The meal comes with a sorrel drink, a fruit that is boiled with cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar and served cold with ice.
At home families may enjoy pastei, a pastry dish made with chicken with pickled onion, pickles, carrots, and peas; and a hearty dish called pom. The latter is a time-consuming casserole to prepare and is made with chicken and pomtajer (a plant whose the roots are grated) mixed with citrus juice and a mixture of onions, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and nutmeg fried in oil. The baked dish is cut into pieces and served with rice and vegetables.
Brazilians appreciate a Christmas dinner on the 24th at midnight and a lunch on the 25th. A traditional dinner consists of turkey, pork shank, roasted chicken they call chester, and/or smoked ham they call tender. Among other favorites are cod and pork loin. The meal may have side dishes such as mashed apples and salpicão (type of salad chicken) and Brazilians like to drink champagne and wine with their meal.
A typical Christmas tradition in western Bolivia is eating picana, accompanied by a glass of red wine. What picana contains depends on whom you ask. The basic ingredients of this soup are meat, potatoes, and vegetables. But other than that, people use variations, opting for red meat or preferring chicken, although it is best to use at least three types of meat. Others will add cilantro and parsley or add carrots. In Sucre, they like to cook picana with dried fruits while in La Paz the soup may be served with tunta con queso, a type of dried potatoes with cheese. Mothers and grandmothers will start preparing this dish three or four hours before the meal. Each considers her picana the best and the family recipe will be passed down to the next generation.