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10 Christmas dinner ideas from Latin America

Written by Laurent Escobar | 2nd December 2015 |

Category: Knowledge

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Ahh, that wonderful smell of traditional Christmas food' can't wait for it! But what if this year you swap your usual stuffed-turkey for a delightful Argentine 'asado'' Or your sweet Christmas pudding for a lovely South American 'natilla’?

Keep reading for dishes, drinks and desserts from Christmas in Latin America. Before we go there though, here's a quick reminder about Christmas traditions from the other side of the Atlantic.

Of course traditions may vary by country and region, but generally most Catholic Latin Americans celebrate the nine days leading up to 'Nochebuena' (Christmas Eve) with 'Posadas' or 'Novena de Aguinaldos' in order to recreate Mary and Joseph's pilgrimage looking for shelter. People go from house to house singing carols and inviting those inside to join the procession. The night ends at a host's home where everyone enjoys a warm drink, food and games. In Mexico it is also the time when kids get to indulge the famous 'piñata' tradition.

On Nochebuena families gather together for a big dinner with lot of fun, music and gifts. Most of the time the feast starts the night before with the marinating of meats and the preparation of sauces. Almost every house also prepares its own 'pesebre' (nativity scene) next to their Christmas tree.

Having said that, traditionally gifts must be exchanged on Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day/Epiphany) on January 6th rather than at Christmas. The tradition is based on the biblical story of the Magi visiting Jesus after his birth and bearing gifts. But with the western idea of Santa Claus gaining popularity in Latin America, people now also offer presents at Christmas.

Finally, at the stroke of midnight on the eve of Christmas, the Midnight Mass known as 'Misa de Gallo' (Rooster's Mass) occurs to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Most historians agree the mass originally started 'ad galli cantus' or 'when the rooster crows' at the break of dawn, hence the name.

Now enjoy 10 tasty ideas for your Christmas dinner:

Coquito

This Puerto Rican drink, similar to eggnog but made with coconut milk and spiked with rum is perfect to warm your belly or just sip while decorating your Christmas tree. Serve it chilled and dusted with cinnamon. Other similar egg-based drinks in Latin America include: Poncho Crema (Venezuela), Rompope (Mexico and Central America), Cola de Mono (Chile).

Buñuelo

A common treat in most of Latin America - with each region having a different version. It generally consists of fried dough (cassava or corn) often flavoured with anise and finished off with sugar or honey. Munch on it with a coffee or a hot chocolate.

Natilla

Basically a different version of our Christmas pudding, this creamy custard from Colombia can contain coconut, cheese, raisins or corn. After being chilled it is cut into squares or wedges to share. It is also customary to have buñuelos on the side. Just to keep you happy until the ambulance arrives.

Panettone

Might sound weird to you but this traditional Italian sweet bread from Milan has become a holiday staple in most of South America thanks to Italian immigrants. However here is the Brazilian twist: instead of the usual dried fruits, put chocolate, brigadeiro, dulce de leche, or sweet guava in it!

Tamal/Hallaca

Eaten over the holidays in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras these steamed corn cakes wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables or chillies. Venezuela's tamal version (hallaca) contains a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives. Preparing them with the family is also one of the best part of this traditional treat.

Lechón

The star of the Christmas table in the Caribbean is this slow-roasted pork. While Puerto Ricans prefer to roast the pig on a spit, Cubans lean toward a roasting box. In both cases the meat is marinated overnight and cooked until falling-apart tender. Pulled pork but done properly, not made in a factory in Leicester.

Bacalao a la Vizcaína

This cod stew originally from the Basque region in Spain has become one of the most popular Christmas dinners in Mexico. Although, the Mexican version has some extra ingredients that make it an outstanding dish with an inspired combination of flavours.

Asado a la Parrilla

The tradition in Argentina calls for coal and patience to make a perfect 'asado' which is actually a barbecue of any kind of meat. Don't forget to pair it with 'sidra' (cider) which is the most popular drink for Christmas and New Year celebration.

Niños Envueltos

Literally meaning 'wrapped kids' this very popular Christmas dish from Argentina is made of steaks filled with minced meat, spices, hard-boiled egg and onions. Each steak is shaped into rolls and cooked until juicy and tender.

Turkey

If you can't face Christmas without turkey, at least try the Peruvian style, which involves proper condiment like 'aji panca' and inserting an apple into the bird to give it a distinct taste and aroma: sweet and spicy. Some also inject shots of pisco into the turkey for an alcoholic kick. On the side add a Waldorf salad (apples, celery, mayonnaise, grapes and chopped nuts), a sweet potato purée, apple sauce, and rice.

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