The preparation of hallacas, one of the typical Venezuelan meals in December, is a tradition of great importance to us. It is the moment when the whole family gets together to collaborate and make as many hallacas as possible for everyone to enjoy during this month.
The whole family participates
Each member, from the children to the older ones, has a task assigned to them in the laborious preparation: from washing the banana leaves (which will wrap the hallaca), chopping the onions, meat, chicken, etc., which are part of the ingredients in the stew, which is usually done by the person with the most experience in the family because it's the most delicate thing when it comes to cooking. In my family, my grandmother takes the lead; she is in charge of making the stew and watching over its preparation until it is ready.
After the stew rests long enough, the dough is prepared with corn flour (preferably Harina P.A.N). The onoto oil is heated, which gives the dough its characteristic yellow color, and the dough balls are made to start assembling the hallaca.
The dough is smashed over the banana leaf (on which a little onoto oil and a little water is first poured) until the dough is very thin and scattered in a circular shape. Then we put some of the stew, and finally the decorations (which vary in each region and depending on the tastes of each family). In the case of my family, the only adornment is the olives, because the rest of the ingredients were already included in the preparation of the stew, but in many homes the custom is to adorn the hallacas with olives, onion, paprika and others.
After that, we wrap the hallaca in the banana leaf until it has a rectangular shape, tie it with wick and finally cook it in batches, to make it easier to keep score. In my house we prepare them in roasters.
This arduous task normally takes 2 to 3 days. While we prepare them, we usually listen to gaitas, which is a Venezuelan musical genre originally from the state of Zulia, which is played at Christmas. Here is one of my favorites from the group Maracaibo 15, interpreted by the great voice of Betulio Medina. If you are not from this country but know Venezuelan people, I assure you that this song touches their heart and perhaps makes them cry.
We drink ponche crema, eat ham bread and other Christmas meals: panettone, black cake, hen salad, and a long etcetera.
The sad note this Christmas
This December, my family had the blessing of being able to make hallacas. Of course, this was only possible thanks to the help of relatives who are outside the country and a great effort on our part, so we did just enough for everyone to at least eat for a few days. Not even close was the amount done ten years ago, which we could do up to more than 200, and we all ate hallacas daily until January. That was in the past, because the economic situation in Venezuela today is deplorable. People die of hunger, for lack of medicines and we live like slaves; professionals earn salaries that are not enough to make a decent purchase of basic products, not even to subsist for a week.
In short, it's a luxury that this can be done, and I am thankful for having been able to live the experience this year. Not only for the hallacas themselves and to be able to taste them, which is something wonderful, but to be able to be with my family and live this important tradition with them.
There are so many Venezuelans outside the country in search of a better future, quality of life for themselves and their loved ones. They are probably having a very difficult time, far from their family and without being able to live this type of experience. For them my warmest embrace and my greatest wishes so that they can be with their loved ones very soon.
Someday all Venezuelans will be able to eat hallacas again in December.