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Puerto Rican pasteles

Pasteles (Spanish pronunciation: [pasˈteles]; singular pastel), also known as pastelles in the English-speaking Caribbean, are a traditional dish in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and Panama, it looks like a tamale. In Central American cuisine, it more closely resembles a British pasty or an Italian calzone. In other Spanish-speaking countries, pastel is a generic term for pastry. In Hawaii, they are called pateles in a phonetic rendering of the Puerto Rican pronunciation of pasteles, as discussed below.

Regional variations[edit]


Colombian pasteles are called pastel de arroz cartagenero[1] (rice pasteles) and are more of a tamale than a typical pastel. Is made up of rice that is seasoned and left out in the sun; a process referred to as orear (to air). The rice is then mixed with many ingredients. Pickled vegetables, chorizo, pork, chickpeas, olives, and potatoes are the most common. Chicken and beef are also used. Colombian pasteles are wrapped twice, once with a cabbage leaf, and again with a banana leaf. This is the typical meal of the Nochebuena Dinner (Christmas Eve), in the Caribbean Coast Region of Colombia[2] since their humble beginnings. It is often confused with the tamal from the Andean region, which is made up with corn.

Dominican Republic[edit]

In Dominican Republic pasteles are a Christmas tradition adopted from Puerto Rico. Traditional plantains are mainly used for making masa with squash and other tubers. Masa is then placed on a banana leaf and filled with picadillo (ground beef), wrapped, tied and boiled or frozen for later use. They can also be filled with cheese, poultry and vegetables.

"Bollo de Guayiga" is made of a tuber called Guayiga and is available in southern beaches as a snack, but to the region of San Cristobal and Najayo Beach.

El Salvador[edit]

Three pasteles from El Salvador

In El Salvador pasteles are a red-tinted cornflour-based dish with a stuffing of either beef or chicken with chopped potatoes and carrots. The stuffing is cooked separately so that the flavors mix. Once the stuffing is cooked, it is put into the molded flour dough, which is made by adding the mixture of boiled water and achiote powder, thus giving the flour the red coloring. Once the stuffing is in the flour turnover it is fried to a finish. It is usually served with curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage slaw.


The common name for this food in Hawaii, pateles, is most likely borrowed from Caribbean Spanish, which features weakening or loss of /s/ at the end of syllables: the pronunciation of pasteles as "pateles" occurs in Puerto Rican dialects, for instance. Over 5000 Puerto Ricans migrated to Hawaii at the dawn of the 20th century to work in sugar plantations. The singular of pasteles, pastel (often pronounced patel), has been constructed through back-formation. The usage of the singular can be seen in phrases such as pastele stew,[3] "pot pastele", and "baked pastele".[4]

Puerto Rico[edit]

In Puerto Rico, pasteles are a cherished culinary recipe, especially around Christmas-time. The masa consists of typically grated green banana, green plantain, white yautía, potato, and tropical pumpkins known as calabazas. It is seasoned with liquid from the meat mixture, milk, and annatto oil.[5] The meat is prepared as a stew and usually contains any combination of boston butt, ham, bacon, raisins, chickpeas, sliced pickled pimiento peppers, olives and capers, and is commonly seasoned with bay leaves, recaito, tomato sauce, adobo seco, and annatto oil, but the seasoning is not limited to these. Filling can range from vegetables, poultry, fish, pork and game. In some more modern recipes the pork is roasted and the bone is removed to make the broth.

Assembling a typical pastel involves a large sheet of parchment paper, a strip of banana leaf that has been heated over an open flame to make it supple, and a little annatto oil on the leaf. The masa is then placed on banana leaf and stuffed with the meat mixture. The paper is then folded and tied with kitchen string to form packets. Some people use aluminum foil instead of parchment and string. Traditionally added to stuffing was butter, almonds, breadcrumbs and a chili would be tucked on one end of every pastele. Chili is said to be a Taino tradition.

A typical set of ingredients used to make pasteles

Once made, pasteles can either be cooked in boiling water, steamed, barbecue (smoked or slow grilling), or frozen for later use. Because they are so labor-intensive, large Puerto Rican families often make anywhere from 50 to 200 or more at a time, especially around the holiday season. Pasteles are accompanied with rice and pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), escabeche, roasted pork, and other holiday foods.

Pasteles de yuca[6] is one of many recipes in Puerto Rico that are popular around the island and in Latin America. These are also known as "hallacas de yuca" or "yuca empanada". The masa is made from cassava but can add other tubers and squash. The grated yuca is squeezed through a cheesecloth removing most of its liquid. Broth, milk, coconut milk, butter, annatto oil is added to the masa. They are filled with currants, chickpeas, olives, coconut, capers, seafood, meat or poultry.

Another variety is pasteles de arroz where the "masa" is actually composed of partly cooked seasoned rice which is fully cooked as the pastel boils. Fillings are traditional, pork butt, chicken and crabmeat are the most common.

Pasteles are commonly served with ketchup, tabasco-ketchup sauce, salsa rosada (ketchup, garlic, lime and mayonnaise), ajilimójili or pique criollo.

Related to alcapurria, tamale, hallacas, and guanimes, pasteles are believed[by whom?] to have been made by natives of Boriquen (Puerto Rico). Tainos made masa from cassava, yautía and squash. The masa was then filled with beans, chilies, corn, nuts, meat (lizards, frogs or birds), fish and wrapped in corn husk.

The origins of pasteles, however, can be traced back several centuries to Spanish colonial times, before they became an essential Puerto Rican Christmas dish.[citation needed] In Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity, Ortíz Cuadra explains that the technique of wrapping the pastel in banana leaves is owed largely to Puerto Ricans’ African ancestors who were enslaved by the Spanish and forced to work the sugar plantations.[full citation needed] In the early 19th century, Spanish colonizers provided enslaved African workers a limited diet of viandas, which largely included plantains, a fruit that colonizers and white Puerto Rican elites alike looked down on as “rural y bárbaro.”

Puerto Rico has turned pasteles making into an art[according to whom?] having hundreds of recipes and an annual pastel festival (Festival Nacional del Pastel Puertorriqueño)[7] on the island.

Trinidad and Tobago[edit]

Pastelles (steamed)
Pastelle (opened)

Trinidadian pastelles are small meat-filled cornmeal pies stuffed with meat, fish or vegetables seasoned with fresh herbs and flavoured with raisins, olives and capers wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. They are traditionally prepared and eaten during the Christmas season. It is believed that they were introduced by Spanish colonizers who ruled between the late 15th and early 18th centuries.

They exist in some form or another throughout Latin America and are more commonly known in Venezuela as hallacas (pronounced hayacas). The origins of pastelles are unclear. One view is that Spanish colonists who settled in the region made them as a substitute for one of their favourite delicacies – empanada gallega. Empanada gallega and pasteles both have heavily spiced meaty fillings but pastelles are made with cornmeal while the empanada is more like a typical pastry as it is made with white flour. Another view is that the dish, because it uses corn and is wrapped in banana leaves, is a derivative of the mesoamerican tamale.

A sweet version is called paime and is also a Christmas dish. It contains no filling, but the dough itself contains ground coconut and raisins.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Pastele Stew". Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  4. ^ Recipes from the Heart of Hawaii's Puerto Ricans. Cookbooks by Morris Press. 1999. pp. 34–35.
  5. ^ "Annatto Oil". Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  6. ^ Meseydi Rivera. "Pasteles de yuca Recipe (with Pictures)".
  7. ^ "Festival del Pastel". Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  8. ^ The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad & Tobago. Naparima Girls' High School Cookbook. 2nd edition 2002, p. 165

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