17 Typical Christmas Foods Eaten In Latin America
Christmas in Latin America is a sensual explosion. Bright lights, loud music, kids everywhere and lots of aromatic goodness wafting out of the kitchen. The big dinner with family is usually on Christmas Eve in most of Latin America but the festivities also tend to continue on for at least a week, eventually blurring into New Years. Here are 17 of the most popular typical Christmas dishes across Latin America to give you some ideas for getting creative in your own home this holiday season.
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Tamales are a staple life throughout the year in many different countries in Latin America but they are also one of the most prominent foods of the holiday season. Many countries make special Tamales de Navidad for the Christmas season that are easy to stack up and share with family and friends that come visit.
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The Latin version of the holiday fruitcake, the pannetone is found in almost every home from Mexico to Bolivia and beyond come Christmas time. If it looks similar to the Italian Christmas fruitcake it’s because it came from the boot-shaped peninsula at some point in time, but now it is enjoyed with hot chocolate on Christmas Eve all over the new world.
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Forget the turkey (for a bit anyway), slow roasted pork is the Christmas main plate of choice in much of Latin America, especially the Caribbean. In Cuba and many other neighboring countries, the Caja China is brought out for the occasion. This is a fast but efficient way to cook a whole pig in a matter of hours and keeps all the succulent juices in the meat.
Moros y Cristianos
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Literally meaning “Moors and Christians” this black beans and rice dish is also a staple of the Christmas time feast in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean. With a hearty lard base this creamy rich dish often becomes the star of the table!
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Originating in Spain but now a staple of the Christmas season in Colombia and many other Latin American countries, natilla is a rich dessert made from milk. Thicker than a pudding and sliceable by knife it’s decadent and simple and usually served alongside other small eats.
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Especially popular in Mexico for Christmas eve dinner, bacalao is salted codfish that can be prepared in many different ways. Like most traditional Mexican recipes, Christmas bacalao includes some serious heat, in this case ancho chiles.
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An animal that was actually domesticated by the Aztecs, turkey is just as big a part of Christmas in Latin America as it is in the USA. Countries like Peru have their own al horno styles and recipes for cooking this super fowl that include local herbs and spices that really bring out the flavor of the meat.
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These deep-fried fritters take different forms depending on where you are in Latin America. They are flat in Mexico for example but round as a ball in Colombia. But they are always a part of the Christmas festivities no matter where you go – try them with a slice of natilla for something extra special.
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Also known as patacones in some parts of Latin America, these double pan-fried plantains make for the perfect chip or tortilla substitute to use for dipping. Part of the Christmas tradition in many parts of Latin America, tostones are easy and cheap to make but the art of mashing them right must be mastered.
Arroz con Leche
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Everyone’s favorite Latin desert also has a special place for reserved at the Christmas Eve dinner table. A simple rice pudding spiced with cinnamon, this easy to make treat delights both the young and old.
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To make this traditional Colombian dish, which reaches epic popularity during Christmas time, you need to first roast a whole pig. Then you take out all the meat, shred it, mix it with rice and other veggies and spices, and then re-stuff the crispy fried skin. The result is heaven on earth.
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An indigenous tradition from the south of Mexico, romeritos are now a part of Christmas time feasting all over the country. Although they resemble romero (rosemary) they are actually a native wild plant known as seepweed.
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Originally from Puerto Rico, this alcoholic beverage is similar to eggnog but with a distinctly Latin flair. Made with coconut milk, eggs, rum and vanilla, coquito is now enjoyed in many different countries around the world come Christmas time and can pack quite a punch!
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The Ensalada de Navidad is important all over Latin America but the Andean countries like Peru take it to whole new levels. Bursting with bright colored veggies, heirloom potatoes and utilizing local specialties like quinoa or huancaina sauce, Peruvian Christmas salad can often substitute for the main dish, especially for vegetarians.
Even though potatoes are of course from the Americas, many countries actually use the yucca as a starch just as often. Mashed yuccas are a Christmas time delight in many countries in South America, and their hearty fibrous texture blends well with a wide variety of sauces and seasonings.
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Popular in both Ecuador and Colombia, the canelazo is a hot herbal infused and alcohol-spiked drink made to warm up the body and ward away colds and flus. During Christmastime, canelazo is served on every street corner in cities like Quito and Bogota, which are high up in the Andes, and it makes the perfect cold season pick me up for the North American winter as well.
Cake de Ron
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This Cuban sponge cake cooked with rum and then served to the delight of all every holiday season in this island nation. Topped with a bit of ice cream cake de ron becomes a decadent treat that packs a bit of buzz-inducing punch as well.