Christmas and New Year's season is probably the best moment of the year to embrace the Venezuelan intercultural heritage; and enjoy it through our most emblematic traditional Christmas dish: The Hallaca.
Although there are several delicious seasonal dishes, such as baked pork, ham bread, and hen salad; no one beats the historic and gastronomic value of the Hallaca. This extraordinary dish sums up what most people call “The encounter of two worlds”, which takes us back to 1492; when Spanish conquerors first set foot in American land, bringing both European and African ingredients along to meet the local indigenous stoves and techniques.
The Venezuelan oral tradition (or non written history) tells that this dish’s name is the result of the words “Allá” (there) and “Acá” (here) put together. Regardless if this is a myth or not, the inevitable process of miscegenation that began by the end of 15th century may be tasted in each bite of the Hallaca during this time of the year.
The Hallaca making begins with a hen (not chicken). It is used to make a clear soup, which along with the achiote, provide flavor and color to the corn dough. This dough is filled with a stew of beef, pork and the hen’s meat, to which olives are added, raisins, capers, peppers and onions. Finally, it is wrapped into a rectangular shape in banana leaves, tied with wick and boiled in water. The Hallaca finds its variants in every Venezuelan region, where additional ingredients are added or even beef, hen and pork are replaced by white fish. The whole process usually takes 3-4 days. Traditionally, all family members reunite to participate in the Hallaca making; and usually the oldest woman is the one in charge of the process, like an orchestra director would.
During December and January the Hallacas are made to be shared, given as a gift, or even sold. It is a tradition to exchange a few Hallacas from one family to another. And, although we would always compliment every Hallaca we receive, we will always sustain – as some sort of a mantra - that “the best Hallacas are mom’s Hallacas”.
Written by Geraldine Siso
LARM Venezuela. Relocation Specialist