Place of origin
|Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico|
Region or state
|cornmeal dough, meat (beef, pork, chicken), raisins, capers, olives|
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (January 2010)|
In Latin American cuisine, an hallaca (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈʎaka], [aˈʝaka]; alt. spelling, hayaca) typically involves a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, raisins, capers, and olives wrapped in cornmeal dough, folded within plantain leaves, tied with strings, and boiled or steamed afterwards. It is typically served during the Christmas holiday. In the Dominican Republic it is known as tamal or guanimos and is made of cornflour and stuffed with ground meat; in Puerto Rico it is known as hallaca de yuca, cassava mashed into masa stuffed and wrapped in plantain leaf and guanines cornmeal dough with grated cassava and wrapped in banana leaf. In Trinidad and Tobago, hallaca is known as pastelle but often confused with empanadas.
Popular myth has it that in colonial times it was common for plantation owners to donate leftover Christmas food scraps, such as bits of pork and beef, to their slaves, who would then wrap them in cornmeal and plantain leaves for subsequent preparation and cooking, which could take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.
An alternate theory notes the similarity between the hallaca (also known as hayaca) and the Spanish empanada gallega (Galician pastry), emphasizing that the fillings are almost identical. Hallacas would then be empanadas gallegas using specially prepared corn flour rather than wheat flour, and plantain leaf rather than expensive iron cooking molds not readily available in the new world in colonial times.
However, the most likely progenitor of the maize body and plantain envelope of hallaca is the Mesoamerican tamal. This version appears likely because tamal-derived dishes, under various names, spread throughout Spain's American colonies as far south as Argentina in the decades following the conquest. To this day, some people in western Venezuela (primarily in Zulia, Falcón and Lara states) use the terms tamar and tamare to refer to what is basically a bollo—the closest version of the tamal in Venezuela—with a simple meat filling.
Another somewhat fanciful source reports a story citing the name as coming from slaves and Indians asking in pidgin Spanish for leftover food, saying alla (there) aca (here), meaning that the food should be placed upon the flat corn cakes they used as plates.
Venezuelan lexicographer Ángel Rosenblat found the word hayaca in a Maracaibo document from 1538, but believes it referred to a bundle of raw corn rather than to the modern assemblage. According to Adolfo Ernst, the word hallaca evolved from the indigenous Guarani language, stemming from the verb ayua or ayuar, meaning "to mix or blend". From there, the construction ayuaca (mixed things) devolved to ayaca and ultimately to hayaca or hallaca using Spanish silent "h" when written). The earliest use of the word in the modern sense is in a 1781 document of Italian missionary linguist Filippo Salvatore Gilii.
Hallaca is a staple part of Venezuelan Christmas celebrations and its preparation is practically limited to that time of the year. The dish is also an icon of Venezuelan multicultural heritage, as its preparation includes European ingredients (such as raisins, nuts and olives), indigenous ingredients (corn meal colored with annatto seeds and onions), and African ingredients (smoked plantain leaves used for wrapping).
Trinidad, which is just 7 miles from Venezuela's east coast, has adopted the hallaca along with other Latin American dishes, calling it pastelle. The preparation is essentially the same with some variation in the filling. One of the major herbs in Trinidadian cooking is culantro (called chadon beni locally) and this is a predominant flavour in most seasoned meat. There are also vegetarian fillings made from soya, lentils and various other things to cater to Hindus and other vegetarians. The typical Trinidadian pastelle is generally a lot smaller than its Venezuelan kin.
In Aruba, an Island 10 miles of the coast of the Paraguana peninsula, Venezuela. It's called 'ayaca', the ingredients are pork and chicken stew, or pork or chicken stew, capers,raisins,cashewnuts, bellpepper, pickled baby onions, a prune, olive. The dough made from white cornmeal, the ayaca leaves first spread with lard or oil. The preparation is the same as in Venezuela (except not with annato colored oil). Cooked meat with other ingredients are then wrapped in ayaca leaves, tied with string and then boiled for about 2 hours. Taste varies from family to family, some add madam Jeanet peppers (very hot). Probably it came to the island by immigrants or the recipe was borrowed. Like many things from other cultures, it has become a part of the Aruban Christmas food traditions adopted as in Trinidad.
The traditional hallaca is made by extending a plantain leaf, greasing it with a spoonful of annatto-colored cooking oil and spreading on it a round portion of corn dough (roughly 30 cm), which is then sprinkled with various fillings. While no two families make hallacas in quite the same way, the most common fillings include a mix of stewed (or rare) meats (pork, poultry, beef, lard, crisp or pork rind), raisins and pitted green olives. Pepper-filled olives are becoming more popular nowadays. People in Los Llanos add boiled eggs and pieces of red pepper. Others might add chickpeas, nuts and almonds.
The filled dough is then skillfully wrapped in an oblong fashion and tied with string in a typical square mesh before its cooking in boiling water. Afterwards, it is picked from the pail with a fork, unwrapped and served on its own plantain leaves with chicken salad, pan de jamón (ham filled bread) or plain bread. In the Andean region, the filling is cooked with the rest of the hallaca, while in the rest of the country it is usually cooked beforehand.
The ideal hallaca has a silky golden-reddish glow. In taste, it aims to balance the saltiness of the meats and olives with the sweetness of the raisins and of the dough itself.
After making a number of hallacas, the remaining portion of ingredients is occasionally mixed together in order to obtain a uniform dough. The dough undergoes the same hallaca wrap and cooking preparation, although typically smaller in size and much fewer in number. The result is the bollo, which may be offered as a lighter option to the hallaca at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
After cooking, hallacas can be frozen for several weeks with no change in flavor. It not unusual for some families to eat hallacas as late as May or June of the next year.
Ingredients differ from region to region and from family to family. It is not uncommon to find hallacas with chickpeas, tomato, bell pepper, pickled vegetables, and garlic. Potatoes are included in the Andean variation. Also, some of the traditional ingredients may be substituted by local variants such as fish and lobster (East Coast) and plantain dough (Maracaibo).
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2011)|
Hallaca-making requires many hours of intense work, so hallacas are typically made all in one go, in large enough quantities to last the entire holiday season (from a few dozen to several hundred). Hallaca making is a logistical feat and an economic stretch for many. The most important Venezuelan newspapers usually carry stories in their Economics sections at the beginning of December noting the rise in the cost of making hallacas.
Hallaca-making reunites family members at holiday time. It is a job joyfully done by whole families together, marking the start of the holiday festivities. However, the most important part of "hallaca-preparation" is that it represents one of the strongest holiday family traditions in Venezuela, comparable perhaps to Thanksgiving in United States.
The hallaca making party tends to be matriarchal, with grandmothers and/or mothers leading the preparation. Foreigners in Venezuela in December are often struck by how often they are offered hallacas.
Friendly rivalry over whose hallacas are the best is part of the Venezuelan holiday culture, leading to the popular saying la mejor hallaca es la que hace mi mamá – the best hallaca is the one my mother makes – an expression of familism. This expression was immortalized in a holiday song by Venezuelan pop singer Raquel Castaño.
- ^ Rosenblat, Ángel. (Venezuela Analysis, ???). hallaca.asp "hallaca". Retrieved 9 January 2005.
- Template:Notelcastillo "Raquel Castaños" Castillo, Efrain. Revista Estampas (???) "Decanos de la Navidad" Retrieved 8 April 2012
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