The recipe for “Hallacas Caraqueñas” in Armando Scannone’s celebrated red book runs to seven pages. Not normal pages, either: seven pages of tight-packed, no-paragraph-break, small-font Scannone cannonical wisdom.

You glance at it like a climber at the bottom of the Matterhorn: it’s an insane undertaking, the Venn Diagram overlap between Venezuela’s most famously complicated dish and its most detail-obsessed food writer.

Scannone can over-complicate any dish, and when it comes to Venezuela’s iconic Christmas centerpiece, he just goes hog wild.

It’s only when you get to the masa section, halfway through this treatise, that you grasp there’s no hope for mortals here: rather than calling for Harina PAN, like a normal person, Scannone wants us to make our masa from maíz pilado, a shocking 19th-century atavism that’ll add eight hours of work to what was already a two-day undertaking.

It brought to mind the lovely scene in Julie & Julia where the 21st-century Julie guffaws at 1950s Julia’s helpful note that she’s written a cookbook for “servantless American cooks.”

Scannone has no such compunctions — the kind of rococo excess in his Mantuano hallacas takes it for granted that there’s a señora de servicio in the mix. I, like Julie, am servantless, so I do the logical thing: divide all quantities in his ingredient list by four, add “Harina PAN”, and go on a shopping spree at the Sabor Latino on Belanger Street.

I try not to dwell too much on the prices, or how unfair it is I can go to a single store to find all hallaca ingredients in one go, (plus afford them). These things no longer happen in Venezuela, I realize, but there’s no use draining the Christmas cheer from proceedings.

It’s my first year making hallacas, actually. I mean sure, I’ve helped other people make theirs for years and years, but as everyone knows being in charge of the overall operation is different.

Within maybe 20 minutes I’m crossing the last item off my list: four packs of frozen banana leaves —imported from the Philippines, no less.

It’s my first year making hallacas, actually. I mean sure, I’ve helped other people make theirs for years, but being in charge of the overall operation is different.

There are a zillion steps, obviously, but it’s not the number of steps that makes the process so daunting. The guiso —the meaty filling— isn’t actually hard to make, nor is the caldo — the stock you’ll need in like four separate steps. Even the masa, in all its lardy goodness, is relatively straightforward, when you get down to it.

What nobody ever tells you is that the entire reason hallacas are hard is the banana leaves.

It’s funny: as you eat an hallaca, the leaves are the last thing to draw your attention. It’s just the wrapping, right?

If only.

Brittle, enormous, easy to rip and hard to work with, banana leaves turn out to be almost comically ill-suited at the task of containing an hallaca. But you’re stuck with them: everybody understands that the banana-leaf-on-masa action is where hallaca magic happens.

Trying to figure out where to start with them, we turn to Uncle YouTube for advice. In the first video that comes up, a matronly lady from el interior stares into the camera, whips out a huge machete, heads to her backyard, and gamely chops down a banana leaf from her tree.

My wife Kanako and I stare out our at the snowy wastes of our Montreal backyard: nary a banana tree in sight. This isn’t going to work.

YouTube has no antidote to the drudgery of the hojas.

To decide to make hallacas is to accept this nonsense: hours of cursing under your breath, wash-cloth in hand, as leaves rip when you so much as look at them wrong. Hours of messing around with bbq tongues as you dip them in boiling water one by one to try to make them a little more elastic and less brittle. Then again, what did you expect? You’re trying to use a banana leaf as saran wrap, it’s preposterous on its face.

It took two people a whole morning to do this — and remember, we’re only doing a quarter of Scannone’s quantities.

After a lunch of instant ramen —face it, nobody’s gonna be cooking lunch halfway through hallaca-making— we finally get to the fun part: adorno-time. Here, the unexpected strikes as Kanako demands we add an extra step to Scannone’s list.

“The thing I hate about hallacas is the almonds are never crunchy enough,” she proclaims. “That’s why you always pick them out of your hallaca. I’m going to re-roast these before putting them in.”

I’m at a loss for words.

“But baby,” I try to reason with her, “our kitchen already looks like a bomb went off here. Besides nobody adds steps to the Scannone recipe, that’s not how it works. You cut Scannone’s corners, you don’t add new corners. Cutting Scannone’s corners is as much a Venezuelan Christmas tradition as Ponche Crema!”

It’s no use, she’s already heating a skillet to roast her almonds on.

Kanako may not be in any way Venezuelan, but she’s the one with the fine motor skills around the house. As the process goes on, she grasps that I’m just going to destroy all the banana leaves if she lets me do it. Soon she’s deciding how much of which adorno goes in each hallaca — advocating for a shocking, unheard-of three almonds (roasted almonds) per unit.

And folding the damn things? She doesn’t even let me try. Little by little I find myself getting sidelined, a kitchen coup has gone down, and I’m in my own private La Orchila.

A tamal is just an hallaca that’s given up. 

At the end of all this, as I’m cleaning up the absolute disaster Scannone’s red book has turned our kitchen into, I reflect on the whole over-complicated ritual.

What you’re left with, when all is said and done, is wonderful — but it’s also, undeniably, a tamal. OK, we don’t call it that, and sure, it’s a far-over-the-top tamal, a churrigueresque tamal with all kinds of weird-ass ingredients that no normal Mexican or Guatemalan would ever put in a tamal (capers, anyone?) And yet, it is recognizable as a tamal to anyone in the region.

Actually, I thought back to the first time I’d had a tamal, here in Canada, at a nice Guatemalan restaurant nearby. I hadn’t known what a tamal was going in. It is, in effect a super-simplified hallaca, and I remember the shock of recognition — a mix of anger that my teachers had lied to me telling me these were uniquely Venezuelan and disgust over the sad, sickly-looking, onoto-less grayish masa and the dearth of adornos.

My early conclusion was that a Central American tamal is just a phoned-in hallaca: a spiritless thing made by someone who doesn’t understand Christmas. Also, a tamal is an hallaca that has given up its hopes and dreams.

Scannone, for all his impossible over-elaboration, gets this dish right. And as I bear down on the crunchiness of a roasted almond in a sea of soft, lardy masa, I’m forced to accept Kanako does too. With hallacas, the basic spirit is that more is more. 

So yeah, absolutely do roast those almonds. It makes a difference. And, actually, you know what? Fuck tamales. An hallaca is the same kind of thing as a tamal in the same way Roque Valero is the same kind of thing as Marlon Brando. 

…come to think of it, maybe next year we should make them from maíz pilado.

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  1. Yeah I love to watch the ritual of making Hallacas and my part is to heat the banana leaves on the gas grill to soften them up. We have a family of 3 with 4 guest Venezuelan guest coming to join us at Christmas. My wife and friend made 76 Hallacas. Not sure how we will manage to eat 10 each but I know we will run out at some point. That’s the other thing – you can’t just seem to make a few of them.

  2. A Central American tamal, I still feel, is just a phoned-in hallaca: a spiritless thing made by someone who doesn’t understand the spirit of Christmas. A tamal is just an hallaca that’s given up.

    That’s your opinion. Guatemala has special Christmas tamales, which are rather different from the tamales one eats in Texas. Guatemalan Christmas tamales have a good fruity flavor. Another part of many Christmas meals in Guatemala is turkey soup, a.k.a. Kaq’ ik, a.k.a. Kak-iq. (Quekchí /Kekchí spelling doesn’t have a Royal Academy to standardize spelling.) This version at least, instead of chili paste, uses the Cobán chiles I am accustomed to. Chipotles- perhaps in lesser quantity as Cobaneros are very small spheres- could be substituted. The Cayenne substitution for Cobaneros the recipe suggests will not have the smoky flavor of Cobaneros.

    As I have the same regional preference for tortillas that you have for hallacas/tamales, I will cut you some slack on that issue. Tortillas in Guatemala are thick and taste of corn- at least the homemade ones I have tasted do. The corn tortillas in the US are thin and tasteless.

    I have eaten tamales from Texas to Argentina.

  3. Quico, I suspect that the tamales you ate in the Guatemalan restaurant were rather similar to the tamales one can buy by the dozen in Texas. Texas tamales, while tasty, are rather pedestrian compared to Guatemalan Christmas tamales. (I don’t recall eating tamales at a restaurant in Guatemala- just homemade ones.)

    Tex-Mex is so much an integral part of Texas food that a friend who is the daughter of a WASP-Moroccan Sephardic Jewish marriage makes some tasty tamales. ( Though not as good as Guatemalan Christmas tamales.)

  4. Having escaped just this year from Venezuela, for my wife and I, this was our first attempt at making hallacas outside of Venezuela. At first, we despaired of ever finding banana leaves in the U.S. Northwest. But, after perseverance, we found them frozen in a small Mexican grocery. In the same store, we even found ground annoto, although it is called achiote by the Mexicans.

    The bad news is that freezing banana leaves does not enhance their foldabilty. They also split easier than fresh ones. But, we were still able to make them work. The good news is that quality ingredients really do make a noticeably positive difference. So delicious!

    • Don’t give up! I live in the middle of nowhere (Minnesota) and my Venezuelan family is able to find each and every ingredient, including banana leaves. Though at one time the aunties used something else before they found banana leaves. Possibly corn husks? (which are plentiful here)

      • In Texas, tamales are prepared in corn husks. At least the supermarket tamales you purchase by the dozens are prepared in corn husks.

        • Every tamale I ever saw living in S. Louisiana was wrapped in a corn husk. Mom bought them from time to time from a Mexican family that sold them commercially locally. Totally distinctive flavor from hallacas in Venezuela.

      • Banana leaves as wrapping is used all over the caribbean, corn leaf wrapping is used all from the Colorado river to Patagonia. You can most likely find banana leaves in Dominican stores.

  5. I still remember the way my parents would inspect the banana leaves at the market, how so many were discarded, how so there was still another selection process at home.

    Do tamales from Guatemala have the kind of raisins we use and the olives?

  6. Do tamales from Guatemala have the kind of raisins we use and the olives?
    Disclaimer: this is from what I recall from one family’s preparations. As you well know, recipes vary from family to family. I don’t believe olives were added. I’m not sure about which fruit. My memory says that I saw plums being added, but it could have been raisins. Or both. But definitely a fruity flavor.

    I don’t believe that prunes were added, though a childhood friend who wrote a cookbook had olives and prunes added to a Mexican-style chicken recipe.

    I have helped harvest banana leaves for Christmas tamales.

    Roy, I wonder if cabbage leaves could serve as a substitute for banana leaves- at least the green, thick outer leaves.But that would require purchasing many cabbage heads. 🙂 Collard greens?

      • I suspect there is a certain amount of resemblance between the Guatemalan Christmas tamales I had and Venezuelan Christmas hallacas, as both you and I had a similar reaction in comparing them to more standard tamales.

        Yes, prunes would need to be chopped up.

        • During our time in London , wife couldnt conceive of a christmas without hallacas so she improvised and made a few dozen , at that time banana leaves were impossible to find in London so she used aluminum foil to wrap them up , I know , its not supposed to work but believe me perhaps it was the spirit put in making them , they were delicious !! Now my daughter is having a real venezuelan christmas dinner with her husband and other relatives and friends traveling from all over Spain and she can order hallacas , pan de jamon and other goodies from different stores in the city where she lives ……with a minimum of fuss…….think her christmas dinner is all ready while we are still looking to find some ingredients……..!! how things change…!!

          • Bill, Hallacas without banana leaves, and using aluminum foil???

            Sacrilege! Blasphemy!

            You should be ashamed of yourselves, and please, never do that again.

      • Quico,

        A few years algo, we could not find raisins in Venezuela, so we used prunes cut into raisin size bits. The hallacas tasted great!

      • I agree with Ira. Cabagge leaves are no substitute. I can see how you could use corn husks, but then the hallacas would, of necessity, be shaped differently.

        • Stuff the cabbage leaves with ground beef and rice and cook them in tomato sauce and accompany with some pickled herring and a shot of vodka and you will have someone else’s Christmas Eve dinner figured out.

  7. I don’t know how its done. Like the arepa reinas that pop up periodically. Hallacas just shows up on Christmas Eve, like magic. Much like our turkey on Thanksgiving.

    (Insert smug smile here… and God bless the aunties!)

  8. “A Central American tamal, I still feel, is just a phoned-in hallaca: a spiritless thing made by someone who doesn’t understand the spirit of Christmas. A tamal is just an hallaca that’s given up.”

    Hahahaha… hallaca smack talk.

    Auntie Inez, is that you?

  9. My woman made 70 hallacas over the last couple of days. In this area, at least as far as I know, they use plantain leaves, not banana leaves. Don’t know if there’s a difference in the flavor.

    We’ve got our own hens and hogs now here at the house so that part of the hallaca was secured. She made the trip to Pta de Mata to buy other stuff like raisins, green olives, and……alcapalas (can’t recall the name in English now, LOL). Fortunately, she carried a sack of bills with her because when she got there, there wasn’t a single place that had a functioning point of sale. Anyway, a half kilo of green olives was 10,000 Bs S. We’re talking about ONE MILLARDO of the old currency, bolivares furetes for a flippin’ half kilo of olives.

    I built a Cajun Microwave to cook a young hog…..finished it Friday with the help of the guy who does odd jobs for us here at the house and did a test run with a chicken last night. A bit overdone, but still tasty. What I can’t find is a meat thermometer with an outside gauge that I can watch.

    Remarkably I was able to find and buy 15 live meat birds through a contact I’d made years ago when we sold chickens commercially. The pollera this guy manages has the capacity to produce over a million birds every 60 days or so but their last batch consisted of 30,000 birds! He told me it had been months since they’d last received any birds. I was fortunate that the day I was there weighing a truck full of white corn on their scales, the young birds were arriving so I knew exactly when they’d be ready. The owner told the guy that the birds were all destined for sale to PDVSA but that he’d release a few for the locals to buy.

    Things are grim here. No pernil for the locals as the government is not delivering. And costs are so high on everything else, it’s almost impossible for the average family to buy what they need to celebrate Christmas tradionally.

    Socialism, ain’t it great!

    • “The pollera this guy manages has the capacity to produce over a million birds every 60 days or so but their last batch consisted of 30,000 birds!”

      Glad you’re still smoking the finest weed, or taking whatever drugs you take over there.

      • Why would you say a thing like that when you have no idea how large an operation the place is?

        Today’s meat chickens are ready for sale in 42 days, the hens reaching 2.2 kilos average. If the roosters are segregated, they’re ready in 36 to 40 days. I’ve personally seen roosters here at the house when we raised meat birds reaching 2.5 kilos in 36 days.

        So, 45 days from setting the chicks on the ground, 2 weeks to clean and decontaminate. 60 days per cycle. They used to meet that deadline as long as there were no major problems with disease.

        Merry Christmas.

        • I know its true senator. My cousin in British Columbia produces a million chickens every 60 days. It’s all in the genetics he says. Oh and a perfect diet and perfect water but without any hormones. Pretty rude to assume you are smoking high quality for stating a very plausible fact…
          Hey Mr Toro sir!! Hope you are enjoying a kick ass Canadian Christmas! We invented them!! Hey how come you don’t erase buddy’s rude and offensive comment?

    • We have discussed corn/cereals production. I recall your response after seeing 2016 FAO production figures- that we hadn’t seen nothing yet, as you had seen even less land sown with corn. Your prediction is born out by FAO cereals production figures for 2017.

      The decline in Venezuelan agricultural production continues. Cereals production fell 17.2% from 2016 to 2017, after declining by more than 50% from 2014 to 2016. Given the migration from Venezuela, I am not going to mess with per capita figures.

      Cereals, total production , metric tons
      2014 3,597,762
      2016 1,782,326
      2017 1,475,140

      From 2014 to 2017, cereals ( corn, rice) production fell 59%.

      • The decline continues BT, this year’s harvest was the lowest that I’ve ever seen here.

        I’ve put away about 35,000 kilos of white corn and have a storage capacity for about 5 or 6,000 kilos more which I plan to fill with yellow corn. One guy (the one I bought most from last year) will harvest about 50,000 kilos and he’s promised me to help fill what’s left of my space. He’s got yellow corn and will harvest on the 6th of Jan, depending on weather.

        After that, it’s over for the year, at least here.

  10. OMG…you’ve heard about the Youtube unboxing videos??? I’d pay good money to see the unwrapping of Kanako’s gloriously-wrapped origamy-inspired hallacas!!!

  11. This is freaking hysterical. I had no idea Quico had a sense of humor like this!

    I never understood why people say hallacas are so hard to make, but I’ve always accepted it as fact. My WIFE never attempted to make it, and instead, we order them in advance from Don Pan, a chain restaurant near me in Florida. But for New Year’s, not Christmas. For Christmas, there always has to be a pan de jamon or two. (Are some families like that, that hallacas are more for New Year’s?)

    And my annual hallaca story, repeated herd more than once:

    First New Year’s in VZ, 1989. Family get-together. First time eating an hallaca. Told me wife I want to vomit…this is terrible…she is furious with me for insulting her mother’s/family’s (group effort) cooking.

    And it was my brother-in-law who started screaming and laughing hysterically, telling everyone that I was eating the leaf.

    Not a huge fan of them because of this introduction to it and it’s just not part of my background. But my opinion doesn’t matter, since I don’t like arepas either.

    Now cachapas, I LOVE!

    • Count your blessings. Hallaca and arepa’s are far more superior than lutefisk. Now THAT is a taste you can’t wait to get out of your mouth.

      • And if all this wasn’t enough appetizing enough already, here are a couple tips (which also act as a bit of a warning): Be sure to immediately clean all lutefisk residue off of any plates, pans, or utensils used. Otherwise, if you wait, the fish will be nearly impossible to scrub clean. Additionally, sterling silver should never come into contact with the lutefisk at any point, as the metal will be permanently ruined.

        Sounds like a weapon of gastric destruction.

          • Its ghastly.

            The cod taste perfectly fine… its what is done to it that kills any semblance of edibility. It is essentially jellied cod with the zing of lye added to it. The lye, no matter how diligent the preparer is, seems to never be washed out enough. It ruins everything it touches, including aluminum pans which turn black. The last time I tried it, I drenched it in butter and sour cream, but to no avail. ICK.

            Its awful. Even Norwegians (in Norway) refuse to eat it. (it was used as a way to preserve fish over winters, sea voyages). Stick with Swedish meatballs or herring. And lefse cannot last more than an hour at our house (potato tortillas my daughter used to call them!)

    • Any human being who does not love Hallacas and Arepas cannot be called Venezuelan and should be banned from our land. Ira prefers a Big Mac or a Whooper? Lamentable.

      • Don’t like arepas, don’t love hallacas.

        Definitely prefer a Big Mac or Whopper, and I consider that junk food.

        Which should explain my opinion of hallacas and arepas.

  12. While Venezuelan hallacas are a gift of the gods , there is a tamal which to me is almost as good , the peruvian tamal , which is as tasty as anything you can imagine , smaller sized , also enveloped in plantain leaves , more mealy , its got pork, a big black olive, a hot hot peruvian ‘picante’ (only the brave can have it raw) . At our home tradition mandates that we have both , first the hallaca then the peruvian tamal ……, funny no one has mentioned the ‘bollo’which is a kind of parse hallaca but also incredibly good tasting. In childhood I felt sorry about my foreign mates missing the venezuelan christmas goodies in their christmas dinner.

    • Yes Bill, the bollo or bollito is just made with the leftover of Guiso, adornos etc. Making more Masa and maybe adding some hot peppers, all of this combined together goes in small balls or tubed, then wrapped in the leaves. Perfect for breakfast during the holiday vacation!

    • a hot hot peruvian ‘picante’ (only the brave can have it raw)

      From my experience, I would say that you are not joking.
      By the time I reached Peru in my post-baccalaureate trip to South America, I had purchased an East German camp stove to do my own cooking. I would usually prepare a stew with ají amarillo, tomatoes, onion, meat, with potatoes or noodles. I often purchased rocoto relleno from food vendors on trains or buses. So, I thought I was accustomed to Peruvian hot peppers.

      In the mountains, I was invited to have a bite of a raw rocoto. No problem, I thought, as I had eaten plenty of stuffed rocotos already. Not only was it very hot, I started to sweat and my heart began beating very fast. Thought I was going to have a heart attack. In addition to being cooked, which toned down the heat a bit, the rocoto rellenos I had been eating for train food must have had the seeds removed. So yes, the raw was a bit different

  13. “funny no one has mentioned the ‘bollo’which is a kind of parse hallaca but also incredibly good tasting”

    My woman made those as well Bill. Sort of like everything all mixed together, rolled into a fat tube, and wrapped in plantain leaves.

  14. Really , almonds? only scannonne I have never eaten an Hallaca with almonds… We already told you last year that was a freak of nature you did a poll!

  15. My significant other dislikes the taste of lard(which I included to get the right consistency) in the masa and suggested replacing it with butter. Although I initially considered this blasphemy, I’m willing to give it a try for the next batch of hallacas. Has anybody tried this?

  16. Hallacas turn out differently every year, hard to remember, after all the xmas booze, what years were best. Also, if you’re lucky enough, everyone’s hallacas will taste different that the neighbor’s. You cannot duplicate a recipe, or follow the Scanone rules to perfection. That’s just impossible. I’ve never tasted hallacas from different places the same year that were even close. It’s an art, whatever happens in one kitchen won’t happen in the next. That said, fock peruvian tamales, Hallacas rule!

    • My Venezuelan family has taken to customizing their hallacas, now using more local peppers, meats and even some exotic cheeses (!) and less of the fruits and nuts in the adornos. They make some “old school” for the purists, but since moving to the United States, these women haves started doing what woman have done for millennia… take some of what you know from home, add some new “flavah” from where you live now, and call it your own!

  17. We struggled with those Filipino banana leaves too. For some reason they would not hold together this year ( past years, different issues). As a result, we were triple and quadruple wrapping the hallacas. Rugby balls.

    I discovered this year what tamales have that explains why I especially like them: a half a pound of pork fat or so in each one, mixed in with the masa. So no, they are not the same as hallacas. They are not as “saludable” as hallacas.

  18. Comparar hallacas con tamales no tiene sentido. Los tamales son comida diaria callejera latinoamericana. Se consume los 365 días del año, como desayuno barato o comida callejera. Las hallacas son un ritual navideño específico. Eso es como comparar el pavo de acción de gracias con el pollo de KFC porque ambos son aves. No es correcto decir que un tamal es una hallaca mala o fea o simple, o lo que sea. Lo correcto sería decir que la hallaca es un tamal super especial, complicado y delicioso que se hace una vez al año como ritual navideño.

  19. Hallaca recipes vary from region to region and also to some extent from family to family , they dont always come out the same , so having a the first taste of each years hallaca invites comparisons with hallacas from the past and on whether they have been somehow improved …….., the ingredients may vary somewhat and some people love and others loathe particular ingredients ……my mothers hallaca (which all the world recognizes are the best in the world) for example come in 2 versions one which caters to my taste for alcaparras and a bit of sting and other lesser hallacas which miss out on those two features but which some in my family incomprehensibly prefer.

  20. Well Quico, you really shouldn’t complain! You went from “Lava Hoja” to “Guisero” in one fell swoop!

    Hallaca es Hallaca y el resto no es Navidad.

    TO all: Feliz Navidad!

  21. Have you seen the Harina Pan package? It’s proudly made in Texas! A few miles from home. Check it out. For the rest, who wants to use those thrombotic recipes of Retarded Scanone (even if his daughter was a goddess). All you need is how cook and a good bunch of grilled plantains leave that we found here at one dollar a huge pack. My Mexico friend Hector do some tamales really good. So why bother with such a silly ”national dish” – eat what your country offers.

  22. Quico, you conveniently left out the part about substituting wine with sake… hahaha. But I bear witness to the deliciousness of your hallacas.

  23. Hallacas are a big part but only part of the Venezuelan christmas experience, music is another , venezuelan aguinaldos and christmas music in general is a treat , very varied and enjoyable , my brother in law just spent part of his christmas in Florida and at one point couldnt stand the standard musical fare that blares every public place you go , its always the same dozen of dulcet songs repeated over and over again , the repertoire is so limited , so monotonous and sirupy in tone that he ended up becoming tormented by it . He couldnt believe a country so diverse in cultural traditions and roots could end up with such poor boring christmas music …..

    • It gets boring when you get older, after hearing those songs for decades.

      They don’t write a ton of new Christmas songs, but there’s a lot more stuff than what you hear in the malls. But you’re missing the big point:

      To us Americans, that feels like Christmas. Gaita doesn’t, and every song sounds the same to us. So boring is in the eyes of the beholder.

      Maybe if more Venezuelans stopped writing Gaita and worked towards fighting Chavismo instead, their music might get “boring,” but at least they could eat three meals a day.

      • Lets say US christmas music (much of it canned) is an acquired taste , specially if you havent heard that much christmas music from other places , My education was in different places so I got to develop many multicultural tastes and learned to love good things from places other than Venezuela , for example I have no problem happily admitting that Peruvian dishes as far more tasty than almost all Venezuelan dishes , or that the National Hyms of Peru and Colombia are much better sounding than Venezuelas national Hym. I think few people will not think much of british dishes , but one of the best meals I ever had I ate in a pop and mom country place down a dirt road in the deeper recesses of Alabama…!!

        • What did you eat in Alabama?

          By the way, my relatives brought over a “professionally cooked” pernil last night. Someone in the neighborhood does it in their kitchen.

          I’ve cooked this cut of pork a hundred times. I’ve done whole hogs. But this pernil was the best goddamn piece of meat I ever had. Blew my stuff away.

          He even skied the skin off (with a lot of fat) to make this huge chicharrone “sheet.” The wife used that for arepas in the morning.

          I asked my nephew how it’s cooked, and he said just salt and pepper, in the oven. I guess it was just perfectly seasoned, and perfectly cooked.

          So like I said before, I totally understand the work and art that goes into making hallacas, but they don’t float my boat.

          With no memories attached to them for me, how could they?

          • Did my first-ever hog in a Cajun microwave. My woman watched me building the thing and figured she’d end up having to finish my hog off in her oven. She cooked one as well, a smaller one, in the kitchen oven.

            Pleased to say that mine came out perfect, both the extent of the cooking and eye-appeal on the dinner table. She left her’s in the frig because it was pathetic-looking. LOL

          • Was in a job for a big american company , the bosses were very polite and courteous and invited us to eat at these fancy places which always offered the same fare with different names , stake , greens and mashed potatoes . Got friendly with some local colleagues (learned the difference between the brash professional from other parts of the US and the more sedate and gentlemanly southerners ) who told us in secret that if I wanted to eat some really good local food they knew a place the bosses would never take us to , so one night after work they gave me a ride to this country place where some nice local folk gave us a feast which I still remember ……, dont know why but I did take a liking to these friendly and unassumming southern gents …..highly professional but more modest in how they saw their jobs.

        • Britain always had a rap for bad food, and it was definitely true until the 70s and 80s. Okay, my OPINION, but that was the world consensus as well.

          But the Indian and Chinese immigration brought world class preparation of these ethnic groups there…other ethnic migrations after the formation of the EU brought others…and damn:

          The internet brought EVERYONE the world over a finer appreciation of good eating, and how to make it at home. The incredible explosion of creative chefs is a story unto itself.

          Which is why I have a hard time getting excited about hallacas, especially when they’re gonna cost me 10 bucks or more each for New Year’s!

          You think my wife is going to make them? She needs a map to FIND the kitchen.

  24. The time I made hallacas whilst living in the mountains of southern Ecuador we had all traditional ingredients at hand except for the leaves. We used capacho leaves, that are readily available for the local tamales lojanos. Totally changed the taste, but given we were living in this region, we accepted the new taste as a mix of Vzla & Ecuador. Capacho leaves are way smaller than banana leaves and have a thick central vein that must be crushed with a bottle.

  25. Here in the Canadian Pacific Northwest we get the Platano leaves at Filipino stores, after washing and stacking for later assembly, then applying oil and onoto to the leaves before aplastando la bola de la masa, we rarely have an issue with them splitting, and we fill em up! Porque no son pa negocio! Merry Christmas to all!

    • what luck! my mom made to sell this year and I don’t know how many times I had to trek back to the latino supermarket to get the banana leaves. Nothing beats getting them with a machete in your own garden. I don’t know if it’s the fact they are frozen and defrosted or that they are not grilled when picked up or maybe banana leaves are not the same as plantain leaves, but it’s definitely not the same. I am going to try some of the tricks mentioned here to see if we have better luck, including a trip to chinatown to see if they sell better ones.

      • We have tons of banana leaves in South Florida, and ironically, not many bananas.

        MRubio can answer the question:

        I heard that once a banana “tree” gives its first bananas, it never does so again. That they just chop them down to make room for new growth.

        True or false?

        • Probably true Ira.

          Don’t know about bananas, but that’s the way plantains (platanos) produce so I’d not be surprised if it’s the same for bananas since they’re so closely related.

          Here, as the plant is growing, it begins sending out a number of smaller plants around its base, “hijos” they say here, and once the parent has produced, they chop it down leaving the biggest and strongest hijo to make the next “racimo” of platanos.

  26. Was it the spirit of Christmas or perhaps the specific topic but whatever the explanation is, it’s nice to see people not exchanging word bombs and enjoying a topic.Good feelings engenders good will and good will can solve enormously difficult issues like those facing Venezuela. Merry Christmas to all and may the New Year end the Chavista dictatorship. I actually think this is their exit year. That is my prediction for 2019.

    • “I actually think this is their exit year. That is my prediction for 2019.”

      Cue the outraged, indignant, black ghetto woman accent:

      “Oh no you didn’t!”

      I like your chutzpah making a prediction that we’ve all incorrectly made for the past 6 years.

    • Mr. Crispin, I’m still waiting for Chamito Candela to explain why he thinks I smoke the finest weed or do drugs because of my comments about where I bought my meat chickens recently. A totally unnecessary comment from someone who obviously knows nothing about me and probably even less about producing meat birds.

      But other than that, yes, it’s been a pleasant thread.

      We were treated to a visit from Cristal for a couple of days. She’s doing great and her parents are planning their trip to Spain for her surgeries near the end of January. I couldn’t believe it, at 3 years of age, she grabs her mom’s telephone, a smart phone, and begins scanning through the programs with those tiny fingers to find photos for me to see. I’m lucky to be able to figure out how to turn the darned thing on. LOL

      Today my woman, Cristal’s mom, and Cristal held a Christmas party for needy children here in town. A total of 50 kids attended. They had all sorts of treats, games, singing, and of course, gifts at the end of the festivities. The ladies then visited several super-needy families and donated clothing and shoes for the kids. Some happy faces in those households.

      Merry Christmas to all.

      • MRubio: Some broiler chickens are actually ready for the pot in less than 42 days. Modern genetically modified feeds have shortened the time between hatching and slaughter. With every fast food outlet selling some form of mystery meat “chicken” millions upon millions of the modern birds are consumed every day. Of course the use of GMO feeds does have that irritating side effect of producing human babies with three heads downstream in the human genetic stream. Unlike you folks in Venezuela that struggle every day to simply feed kith and kin those of us living in capitalist prosperity can choose the much better option and eat a cow or pig.

        Bless you and yours. Many, many of us reading these chronicles have followed your ongoing struggle to support your family in horrible circumstances. I’m just a tad shy of having walked this globe for four-score years and have seldom been as impressed as I am with you and your personification of true Christian ideals.

        • Thank you ASA058, but your compliments for me are undeserved.

          As Maria said above, I’m surrounded by some truly remarkable people, not just women. I was very successful in another life because I always employed the very best and brightest. They made me look like a genius when I’m really just a dumb country boy at heart. My dad always said, give those who deserve the credit their due, and they’ll stay with you till the end.

          If you and Maria want to say something nice about a real saint, thank CC poster John who does so much for so many here and asks absolutely nothing in return. I felt ready to throw in the towel at one point and then I met John through this website. He’s inspired something in me that I didn’t know existed and it’s making a difference both for my family and those we’re helping. Cristal’s mom never misses an opportunity to talk about John’s generosity in his efforts to help her daughter and how it’s inspired her to help others.

          Now, speaking of the broiler chickens, I recall a conversation I had many years ago with the head of product development for Popeye’s Fried Chicken who lived in Atlanta. At that time they also owned Church’s Fried Chicken which was really popular with Southern Blacks. He told me that Popeye’s birds were slaughtered at 31 days of age and that those for Church’s, who served a larger bird, were slaughtered at 34 days. That comment always stayed with me because it was an indication of just how rapidly those birds grew.

          The fellow I bought my birds from has a total of 22 galopones, each with a capacity of 50,000 birds. Since he adheres to the recommended “all-in”, “all-out” routine which is to say, fills all the galpones at one time and then sells all the birds at one time, he’s got his 22 sheds separated into one group of 10 and another of 12 located about 3 kilometers away to help prevent transfer of disease between birds of differing age groups. This guy produces his own feed (I used to sell him grain sorghum) and, of course, has his own scales for weighing the vehicles before and after loading the birds.

          What he doesn’t have though is the stock to produce fertile eggs for the hybrid birds nor the incubation systems to produce the chicks. It’s a shame too because that area of western Monagas has a number of chicken farms, though none as large as his operation. I’d guess that area, based on the number of total galpones, could produce about 2 and 1/2 million birds every 60 days under optimum conditions.

          I know most of the owners as I’ve bought from most over the years. The story’s always the same from those guys. “I’d like to produce more, and could produce more, but there’s very little feed, few baby chicks to be found, and even less medicines on the market.”

          Sad when you think about it.

          • I always liked Church’s products Ira. If I recall correctly, they had some items on the menu that weren’t often found at other fried chicken outlets. Their mild jalapeños were great with the meal as well.

            I do believe Popeye’s later sold Church’s Fried Chicken. It’s been a while since I last visited Maiquetía, but there was a Church’s located in the airport terminal. I’d imagine that’s been shut down by now.

          • I loved both Church’s and Popeye’s, but they only had them in the hood.

            For a time, a few of the rest areas on the Florida’s Turnpike had Popeye’s, and I actually got onto the highway to buy for takeout.

            Then, they didn’t win the concessions I guess when they upgraded all of the rest areas.

  27. Plantain leaves from the Philippines never again! Also cross out Goya. This year we hit gold with Mama Lycha plantain leaves. It’s night and day believe me. They are from Costa Rica. In 8 years making hayacas these are the ones to beat! You’ll thank me next year 🙂

    • We’ve always used some from Ecuador, available frozen and smoked before freezing, that we get locally. They’re labeled Banana, but they’re platano for sure. Never an issue as far as them ripping easily, but of course nothing beats the ones you could find at Quinta Crespo or Guaicaipuro markets. You could even buy them sorted by size some years.

      Tried the Goya one’s once. Once. Those did rip easy and were low quality.

      Not a good idea to use actual fresh Banana leaves, whether or not you blanch or smoke them. They’re just not sturdy enough.

    • Plantain is what is called for. Period. End of story.

      Unless you want to commit the ultimate No No and use aluminum foil.

      For which you will be eternally damned.

  28. Quico you just have to wet them and nuke them in the microwave. They used to be softened by smoking them over a bonfire and that’s why you had to spend hours cleaning them. Now they mostly boil them. Also, never fold ’em damn leaves with the “grain” or crosswise, always at an angle… Save the softer ones for the inside wrap.


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