Comida Navideña: A Guide to the Different Types of Latin Foods Served During the Holidays

Ensalada rusa
Ensalada rusa, photo credit via www.machukitchen.wordpress.com

Some people perceive the holidays to be as perfect as Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs, while others prefer to Grinch it out. Whatever your situation, one thing many Latinx people know for sure is that the holidays are the time of the year when we get down to business. This is the time where we all prepare ourselves to eat the best food of all year — Comida Navideña or Holiday food. From tamales to empanadas, the delicacies are never-ending. These finger-licking dishes may bring us a few extra pounds to begin the New Year, but that’s a sacrifice many are willing to take (including myself). Oh, yes. Let’s not try to pretend that Comida Navideña isn’t this important to us. In fact, I can confidently say that the food is a large part of what makes this the best time of the year. 

Every Latinx culture has their own version of perfect Comida Navideña. That’s the beauty of the Latinx community. Though we may be similar in many things, we share our own customs according to where we are from. For instance, a Venezuelan Nochebuena isn’t the same as a Cuban Nochebuena and that’s fine. That means we have a vast variety of dishes that are waiting to be tasted by us. Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone, especially when it comes to food. You never know what food items you’ve been missing out on. The possibilities are endless!

I know Nochebuena is upon us and we can’t go out asking people to let us try their cultural Comida Navideña. This is why I went ahead and found some foods that are regularly eaten by different Latinx regions during the holidays. Disclaimer: The foods you’re about to learn about may cause uncontrollable excitement, rumbling tummies, and slight food envy. 

Hallacas

Hallacas Comida BELatina
Hallacas, photo credit via www.laylita.com

Hallacas are traditional Venezuelan tamales. They are made with cornflour and wrapped in plantain leaves. Their guiso or filling consists of chicken, beef, and pork. The guiso is flavored with a variety of spices and vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. The hallacas are boiled with plantain wrapping and all, in order to have all the flavors lovingly marry each other. It usually takes a few hours to make hallacas, but the finished product will have everyone hooked for more. You can enjoy hallacas with ponche, Venezuelan eggnog!

Panetón

Panteon BELatina
Panetón, photo credit via milrecetasperuanas.com

Peruvians love their panetón! A panetón is a large sweet bread filled with fruits. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but eating a piece of fresh panetón might bring some to an almost euphoric feeling. To further increase the joy you can feel from consuming this treat, you can pair with hot chocolate. Or pisco sour if you’re into that. Though this delight is available year-round, Peruvians go crazy for it during the holidays. Oh, the power of tradition!

Natilla

Natilla BeLatina
Natilla, photo credit via www.antojandoando.com

Though natilla is not exclusive to Colombia, the way any natilla is made varies from where it comes from. In this case, the Colombian natilla is a sweet custard. It is a dish that is never absent from any event during the holidays. This custard can be laced with different flavors. Some of the more popular ones are arequipe (caramel) and cinnamon. In order to make your own natilla,  you must place the milk and custard powder in a pot and stir once the contents start boiling. Stir without missing a beat until it has a thick consistency.  I can’t stress this enough: Stir as if your life depends on it! After this part, you want to let it sit for a while. Once all of that is over, cut a slice of natilla and enjoy! You’ll want to pair this with aguapanela (brown sugar tea). Trust me, Colombian natilla is fire AF. 

Pernil

Pernil roast
Photo credit via www.steamykitchen.coom

Living in Miami has exposed me to A LOT of things. Being that this city is basically a melting pot of cultures, I can’t ignore certain traditions. One of those traditions is the Cuban roast pork or el pernil as it’s usually known. This is a staple in almost every Cuban’s Nochebuena. Oftentimes, they will use a rotisserie cooking box of a sort called “La Caja China” or the “Chinese Box” to roast the pork. Before stuffing the pork into La Caja China, Cubans marinate the pork. Flavor is extremely important to them! They will use mojo (Cuban special sauce) and/or naranja agria (sour oranges) for the marinade and a generous amount of salt, pepper, and garlic to season the pork. Of course, each Cuban household is different. Some use other spices, but using some type of mojo is something that most agree on. Once the preparation is complete, you must place the pork inside La Caja China and let it roast for several hours. Once it’s done, cutting the meat should feel like butter. Pair el pernil with rice and black beans (arroz congri), yuca con mojo, and sweet plantains. Save room for seconds! 

Ensalada Rusa

Ensalada rusa
Ensalada rusa, photo credit via www.machukitchen.wordpress.com

La ensalada rusa or “Russian” potato salad is a customary Nochebuena dish in the Dominican Republic. The main ingredient of this Dominican favorite is potato. The potatoes are then combined with a few other ingredients, like carrots, onions, eggs, apples, green peas, and mayonnaise. It is all mixed together and voila! Ensalada rusa is born. As you can see, this is one hearty salad. It’s no wonder Domincans love this salad so much — it has its own personality!  This salad may come in two colors: a white one or a pink one. The pink one has beets, while the white one doesn’t. You can pair this salad with their puerco asado (roast pork) or any other of the many food items Dominicans provide for their festivities! 

Are you hungry yet?

Cola de Mono

cola de mondo
Cola de Mono, photo credit via www.sunnysidecircus.com

This is a traditional beverage served during the holidays in Chile. Just like its name implies, cola de mono or monkey’s tail, this beverage is extremely fun. If I were to describe cola de mono, I’d say it’s a close relative of the drink, White Russian. This drink is composed of milk, instant coffee, and liquor, preferably Chilean aguardiente, but vodka or rum may be used. These ingredients are combined alongside vanilla extract, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Since it’s important for the flavors to dance well with each other, this fragrant beverage is prepared on a stovetop. Rumor says that this drink is so good that it’ll have you swinging like a monkey, hence its name. Pair this drink with your favorite cousin. May you use your cola de mono to cheer to love, success, and anything your little heart desires! 

Though this beverage sounds out-control-delicious, it is important to drink responsibly. Have fun, but don’t overdo it!

Chancho Hornado

Chancho hornado
Chancho hornado, photo credit via www.cocina-ecuatoriana.com

It seems like pork is a popular item for our Latinx culture because it’s being featured once more. This time around it is the Ecuadorians who present their guests with this dish, chancho hornado,  on their holiday dinner. Chancho hornado is basically slow-roasted pork or Ecuadorian pork. Just like the Cubans, Ecuadorians also feel strongly about their marinade. However, instead of mojo, they use a beer-based sauce. They mix the beer or chicha (fermented corn drink) with pepper, cumin, butter, achiote, among other ingredients. Their main concern when cooking this Ecuadorian specialty is to leave the marinade on the pork for at least 24 hours. The next day, they bake the pork for several hours in order to have their dish acquire a crisp finish. You can enjoy this dish with rice and potatoes!  

Mexican buñuelos, photo credit via www.isabeleats.com

Mexican Buñuelos

Mexican Buñuelos
Mexican buñuelos, photo credit via www.isabeleats.com

How could we forget Mexico? Mexico cuisine is always exciting and they sure as hell don’t disappoint in their Comida Navideña selection. Even though they have an immense menu for the holidays, I had to highlight their buñuelos. Mexican buñuelos are something that can’t be absent in a Mexican household for the holidays. They are a disc-shaped crispy treasure that will make you forget all your troubles as you devour one. Each buñuelo is made with flour, eggs, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder. These ingredients are happily mixed together and then flattened with a rolling pin (you can use any large bottle to roll them out, too!). After the dough is rolled out and flattened, you will carefully fry them. Watch those babies metamorphosize into golden treasures. Then, remove them from the oil and sprinkle sugar on top of them. Pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate as your mouth feels the heavenly flavors of this Mexican buñuelo. Why is food so amazing?

Photo credit via www.senseandedibility.com

Coquito

coquito
Photo credit via www.senseandedibility.com

I’m sure many of you have heard of the famous coquito, so you know we couldn’t leave it out. Coquito is a Puerto Rican beverage that is similar to eggnog (but better!). It is made with coconut cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, rum, and cinnamon. Some add an egg, but that’s all based on personal taste. You bring all these items together and pour it into a pot. You’ll know it’s ready once your house smells like a tropical vacation and the scent of coconut is hugging your surroundings. People refrigerate after and drink it later — you don’t want warm coquito, now do you? Puerto Ricans are known to have bottles of this made for their holiday festivities or to give them away as gifts. Let me tell you something, if you have ever received a coquito as a gift, you are truly loved. Puerto Ricans refuse to give someone a piece of their heart and culture to someone who is not important to them. Or at least that’s what my Puerto Rican girlfriend tells me. All I know is that this drink will liven most people’s night. It brings people together as they talk about the work it takes to make this specialty beverage. You can enjoy coquito with a piece of their version of coconut flan called tembleque

Again, please drink responsibly. 

So, there you have it! A list of scrumptious food waiting to be found and devoured by us. Or maybe you’re up for the challenge to cook these dishes? Although, I will say that cooking these dishes is another story. Many have recipes passed down from generations, or some frantically search for folkloric dishes online (no shame if you do this!). If you’re lucky, you can find some abuela’s YouTube channel and learn from her expertise. But in the best-case scenario, you’re not the cook, you’re just the one that enjoys the food. Isn’t that lovely?

There are many more dishes that we can learn about, but we’d need a novel to write all about them. If your favorite Comida Navideña wasn’t mentioned, please write a comment telling us what it is. We love getting to know all of you!