Published On: Mon, Dec 10th, 2012

Ayaka’s are a part of our tradition during Christmas season

WILLEMSTAD – If you sit down for a meal in Curaçao around Christmas time, you are most likely to be served an ayaka. So what is this corn meal stuffed with chicken or beef wrapped in plantain leave all about?

In Venezuelan cuisine, an Hallaca (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 Christmasholiday. In the Dominican Republic it is known as guanimos and is made of cornflour and stuffed with ground meat; in Puerto Rico it is known aspasteles, a mixer of plantains, bananas and other starchy root vegetables mashed into masa stuffed and wrapped in plantain 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.

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).

So whenever they serve you a hayaca (ayaka in Papiamento) do not hesitate, be part of the culture and enjoy our food.

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