Latin Christmas Foods in North and Central America
Ahhh, the wonderful smell of Latin Christmas foo… Keep reading to find dishes, main appetizers, and desserts we use to celebrate not only “Nochebuena” but also throughout the Christmas season including the Epiphany on January 6 in Hispanic North America and Central America.
Let’s remember: Hispanic Christmas foods have many ingredients and customs as countries are involved. Countries that are physically close to each other have similar customs in terms of foods.
The countries I am covering here are Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
From Mexico to Panama tamales are a “must have” food and are very common throughout the entire holiday. We make tamales of corn meal dough with or without a filling and steam-cook them to perfection. To steam them we wrap it in a leaf of the corn or in plantain leaves, depending on the customs of each country.
Tamales in Mexico are deeply rooted in the pre-Hispanic times. They were important in many rites that marked tamales distinct types, filling and form.
There are many types of tamales, about “forty two different kinds” according to Karen Horsh Graber in her article “Los Tamales: Five Hundred Years at the Heart of the Fiesta.”
In Guatemala “Tamales of rice” make the list for Christmas foods as well. Guatemalans use tamal negro or black, mainly for special occasions like Christmas or the New Year.
There is also tamal colorado or red, which we see most often along with the small “chuchito” wrapped with corn husks. Tamales can be filled with prunes, turkey, raisins and a sauce made with local spices.
Typical Hispanic Christmas foods in Mexico include red tamales, sweet tamales and pork tamales which are served throughout the Christmas holiday.
During Las Posadas you can find Mexican hot chocolate, a stew called “birria,” “gorditas con carne deshebrada” which are corn made pockets with shredded beef, and “atole” or corn gruel.
For “Nochebuena” Mexicans like to add to the tamales with a Mexican noodle casserole called “sopa seca,” “menudo” -made from tripe or “Pozole” made from pork or chicken, Mexican rice and drinks made of a hot fruit punch or sparkling cider.
In Costa Rica tamales also take center stage, in many cases shared with pork leg. Costa Ricans stuff the tamale with potatoes, vegetables and pork or chicken.
Panamanians celebrates Nochebuena with “arroz con pollo” or rice with chicken spiced up with saffron, vegetables and small onions.
Panamanians also eat ham and of course tamales. Potato salad accompanies the main dish and it is mixed with beets. For dessert a great fruitcake is a popular choice or bowls of fruit with grapes, apples and bananas that also serve as decorations.
When it is dessert time Hispanic Christmas foods in North and Central American countries include “flan” which is a delightfully creamy dessert very common also in South America.
Other delights are cinnamon tortillas, the traditional buñelos or fritters, “almendrado” which is a light and refreshing dessert, “churros” which are crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, pan dulce or sweet bread and postre de tres leches or three milk cake.