Ingredients for a Peruvian Christmas
It’s my second Christmas in Lima, and I’m still getting used to the weather. While parts of North America are experiencing record storms, it’s a bit surreal that we’re enjoying a balmy summer here. In Peru, in the place of a White Christmas, you have family beach trips, grilling, and a lot of sun.
Christmas in Peru feels like a combination of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July.
We just arrived back to Lima days before Christmas, after a month in Buenos Aires. It has been a whirlwind effort to get everything together just in time for our Christmas celebration. In Peru, the bulk of the celebration is on nochebuena (Christmas Eve), with the big celebratory dinner at midnight.
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Our day started at the market which was lively but not too crowded as everyone gathered supplies. Here is a list of the things that are associated with Christmas in Peru, inspired by our market trip:
Panteón is one of the things that Peruvians most strongly associate with the Holiday season. This soft, sweet bread filled with dried fruit and nuts is ubiquitous during the Holiday season. Panetón originated in Italy but has become an essential part of the Peruvian Christmas tradition.
There is an entire aisle for Panetón in the supermarket, and restaurants and bakeries make their own versions, sometimes with innovative flavors such as Chicha Morada (purple corn punch). One of the versions that puzzled Peruvians the most was a plain version, one without the classic fruit and nuts.
Hot Chocolate is the classic holiday beverage in Peru. It pairs well with Panetón. Some balk at the idea of drinking a hot beverage during the summer, but it’s typically enjoyed at night so it’s not as strange as you might think. Other common beverages are various ponches or punches. Poncho de Huevo is the Peruvian version of egg nog while ponche de habas is a hot punch made from broad beans.
Pisco and Algarrobina (a thick syrup from the Carob fruit) are common additions that make these beverages more “festive.”
Turkey is usually centerpiece of Christmas dinner. One common preparation of turkey is to marinate it in ají panca (see photo above) and roast it in the oven. Glazed ham and pork are other common main dishes.
Tamales are a classic side dish for dinner. Peruvians enjoy both the version wrapped in banana leaves and the version in corn husks. They are typically filled with pork or chicken.
Other classic sides include camote (sweet potato), beet, apple purée, and Christmas rice for which there are countless recipes but usually has rice mixed with nuts, pork, and almonds.
The Peruvian Christmas dinner tradition doesn’t just end with food and drink. Peruvians love fireworks so you’ll hear fireworks leading up to dinner and peaking around midnight.
Here was our dinner last year. Click on the link and scroll to see the fireworks.
¡Feliz Navidad, everyone! I’m extremely thankful that we made it here to celebrate Christmas with Mariela’s family. We were able to make our flight from Buenos Aires on the day that millions gathered downtown to celebrate Argentina’s incredible win in the World Cup final. Also, we’re thankful that Lima has been calm, given the current political climate. Lima traffic wasn’t too bad today, and I was even able to enjoy a Christmas Eve swim.1
Please forgive the typos and other gaffes. I wrote this must faster than usual and entirely on my phone (including taking and editing the photos).