“When I think of ‘hallacas’ I think of my grandmother. I think of the smell of smoked leaves and roasted olives. I think of Venezuela,” Kimberly smiled as she kneaded the giant bowl of cornmeal.
Today, displaced Venezuelan families who have resettled in Lima, Peru gathered to make a traditional Venezuelan holiday dish – hallacas (ah-YAH-kahs). As we stuffed, chopped, cut and wrapped the savory ingredients, the ladies told me more about the dish and what the tastes, smells, and traditions mean to them.
“To me, ‘hallaca’ means alegría y unión (happiness and togetherness),” Katherin chimed in. Her hands were covered in chopped red peppers as she tossed them into the bowl. “Every year our family would meet at my grandmother’s house to make hallacas together. For my family, we made the hallacas on the 23rd of December. It’s best if you let them sit for a day before cooking them. The flavor of the platano leaf seeps into the rest of the food, and it is so delicious.”
“Hallacas are made of things we eat every day in Venezuela,” Evelin explained as she cut the giant platano leaves into smaller squares for wrapping. “Corn, carrots, pork, and pimentos are common for us. Green olives used to be common, but now they are very expensive, so we only eat them in December. We wait 12 months to make hallacas, and we usually eat them on December 24th and 31st.”
Most of the Venezuelan families in the kitchen have not been able to make or enjoy hallacas since they fled to Peru for refuge two and three years ago. The abundance of food in the kitchen is a far cry from one meal a day they were eating just weeks ago before we met some of them.
“This is the first time I have made hallacas since leaving Venezuela two years ago,” Mary explained. “Last year we couldn’t afford all the ingredients, and we couldn’t find the leaves to wrap them in, so we tried to wrap them in foil and cook them. It didn’t work! This year, I can tell, these are going to be delicious.”
As salsa music played, the people couldn’t stop smiling and dancing.
“Being able to make hallacas today represents something new and beautiful. We are all together — families from different countries sharing traditions together and making new ones. We are grateful for this time — for the hallacas and the friendships. And we are very thankful for a new beginning.”
Thank you for helping build community through experiences like these. Because of your help, these families spent the holidays safe and happy. Donate here to help them continue rebuilding their lives!