Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hallaca Time

Hallaca time comes but once a year.

In 1989 I spent the Christmas holidays in Caracas, dividing my time between the city and the beach. I went on a lark because flights were cheap (about $300 r/t from New York) and costs were low. Venezuela was in the midst of a long recession, following the oil boom of the '70s. I was able to find simple but decent hotels for under $20 a night, and food was incredibly cheap.

In Caracas I had the opportunity to try the traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish, hallaca. Hallacas are labor-intensive, and are generally only made around Christmas time, the preparation of them being a communal family activity. Hallacas are similar to tamales, but they are steamed in banana leaves instead of corn husks. The white corn masa is colored yellow with annato. The stuffing consists of a stew of three meats (pork, beef and chicken) with olives and raisins. The hallaca represents Venezuela's mestizo heritage. Cooking in a banana leaf was a techinque brought by African slaves. The corn masa is native Amerindian, and the stuffing reflects Spanish preparation and ingredients. The hallaca I had in Caracas was delicious.

I was excited to learn that Caracas Arepa Bar, which I've written about before, serves hallacas in December. At Caracas Arepa Bar the hallaca is served with another traditional Venezuelan Christmas specialty, pan de jamon, a bread wrapped around cooked ham, olives and raisins (I tasted cheese too, though it wasn't mentioned on the menu). On the special Christmas plate these items are accompanied by a potato and carrot salad. Unfortunately, the only thing on the plate I really liked was the potato salad. The hallaca stuffing was dry and bland, the corn masa dry and heavy. If there were olives and raisins in them I couldn't taste either. The pan de jamon was served cold and was fairly bland too. Even if it all were good, the $18 price tag is rather steep. I can still recommend the place wholeheartedly for arepas, but steer clear of the hallacas.

I found a fun site about hallaca preparation, where you can make a virtual hallaca. It's in Spanish, and the navigation is a bit clunky, but it's worth a visit if you want to see how hallacas are made.


Blogger the_whistle said...

the hallacas are the best thing ever =D .. our food in christmas is very very good. hallacas, pan de jamon, dulce de lechoza... i love venezuela ^^

6:07 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home