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History of the Hallacas

Popular Story:

Hallacas is the oldest food tradition in Venezuela and it is the most popular Christmas dish
served during the holidays. Its name is pronounced “ah-ya-ka” and it is still prepared in a
similar fashion to the colonial times; however with some modern refinements and personal
touches. The Hallaca is also the most representative icons of Venezuelan multicultural
heritage, as its preparation includes European ingredients such as raisins, nuts, olives, among
others. Indigenous ingredients like corn meal and annatto seeds, and African ingredients like
plantain leaves used for wrapping.

Although there are many different stories about its origins,
the most popular one states that it was created by the slaves back in colonial times.
During those days the slaves used to put the leftovers of their master’s Christmas festivities
in a bit of cornmeal dough, then they would wrap them with banana leaves
and boil them to blend the flavors.

As many things in Venezuela, the hallaca has the influence of three cultures the white Hispanic,
the Indian, and the African. The most popular version calls for a stew with pork, chicken and
beef. In the Andean region they like to add boiled eggs into the mix. And like that every region
has its own different way of making it to give it their personal signature, as well as families.
This is also the reason why they say: “No hallaca tastes like another”. Normally they acquire a
better taste once it has cooled down and settled in the fridge for at least one day. Hallacas are
very laborious to make they require depending on the quantity hours and even days to make.
They are usually done in group, or by the whole family. Its preparation requires
organization and dedication and it constitutes a celebration by itself. Holiday music and carols
are heard during its making. Christmas drinks like Egg Nog make up the festive atmosphere.

They say that back in the years of the revolution of independence, each Christmas eve, the
wealthy families prepared huge banquets with a selected variety of meats and stews.
The next day the slaves who poked around, would collect the leftovers and wrapped them
in corn dough and the covered them with banana leaves winding up straight into big pots
boiling on wood. From this process, has evolved the recipe that has survived for centuries
and until today is still maintained; is the recipe of our popular Hallaca.

More likely this dish came from the efforts taken by the Spanish to “improve” the Tamales,
including pre-Columbian dishes, expanding the ingredients that made up the filling.
Such efforts represented an adaptation to the palate of the European colonial Spanish America.
Another account of the legends affirms that when they were building the “The Spanish Camino,”
a mountain road that connected the port of La Guaira with Caracas the Indians who inhabited
these roads ate some muffins or tamales made out of pure corn. These muffins produced a
disease caused by vitamin deficiency called pellagra, which contaminated the population.
Therefore Caracas families were asked to donate their leftover food to help fill the Indians buns
as did their slaves and servants.

Fabled Story by  Francisco Herrera Luque.

Francisco Herrera Luque, considered the creator of the modern Venezuelan historical literature,
whose works have been widely disseminated within and outside the borders of the country,
introduces in his book The Fabled Story, a funny theory about the origins of the hallaca.
In the story, the author argues that there is an old legend that points to Caracas Don Sancho
de Alquiza, also called Sanchorquiz, as the inventor of the Venezuelan dish. According to the
story presented by Herrera Luque, the hallaca, before having its origin in abundance, was born
of sadness and hunger.
This character, says the Venezuelan novelist, arrived in the country in 1606 and was governor
for 5 years. During his tenure, the old road of the Navy, which cuts through the “Cerro El Ávila”
to the nearby port of La Guaira, was tiled, and as expected, the hard work of extracting the
stone from the mountains and put it on the road was assigned to the Indians who survived
Lozada. However, during the process of improvement of the road, the Indians who worked there
started, dying en masse, “died like flies,” says the author. This issue captured the attention of
the governor Alquiza Sancho, who worried intends to investigate the reason for such high
mortality numbers. Upon arrival, the governor was surprised to observe the state of malnutrition
in which these men were, ensuring that it was impossible that being in such conditions they
could had been successfully resisted the attacks of conquistador Lozada. The reason for this
state was how these men were fed, under the intense and constant work they received daily.
It was a corn paste, without salt, wrapped in banana leaves so that it could be heated without
being spilled. Observing this, the governor decided that henceforth would collect half of leftovers
of all households, allocating the other half for the pigs. However, the citizens of that time valued
more a fat pig than a healthy Indian, so the animals had the best part. This happened just weeks
before Christmas right when an epidemic dysentery was unleashed, which killed more poor
Indians than the bad nutrition they had before applying the bright idea of Sanchorquiz governor.
Don Sancho, observing the situation that had occurred, met with the Bishop, who surprised
ensures that such actions could not go unpunished, he imposed penance, such consisted that
during the whole month of December people shall eat “mazacote” leftovers corn hash, wrapped
in the miserable banana leaf that had concealed the disgrace .
And Caracas met, however, they say that who makes the law also makes the trap. Century after
century, people paid their fault, but the innocent bishop did not specify the source or quality of the
mince, which at first was crap, but it was not so for the penitents, who made their well-minced
ham, good legs of chicken, olives, bacon and even leftovers wine they found there.

Hallaca descendant of tamale?

“We accept without further questioning that—The Hallaca—our hearty national dish, derived from
the Mexican tamale, finding in it even clear phonetic relationships or Aztec roots. Perhaps right
are the ones who say such. But when I think of our robust hallaca, so filled with delicacies and
thrived compared with Tamale, I think that to derive one from another is like saying that the Llama
of the Bolivian highlands is the ancestor of the Camel. 

And because such comparison is ethnocentric, we went to investigate furthermore about the origins
of the Tamal and its relationship with Hallacas.

Tamales a Multicultural Tradition of Hispanic America by Carlo C.

This story is suppose to be about Hallacas, the Venezuelan version of the yellow package everyone
knows as tamales. However, when researching the origin of the Venezuelan holiday tradition, the
investigation inevitably collided with its colleague or counterpart: El Tamal. Accordingly, when the
word Tamales comes up, it instantly conjures Mexico. Undoubtedly, Mexican gastronomy is for the
most part the stereotype of all the Latin cuisines.
Though, Tamales are everywhere in Latin America; however, with noticeable alterations and local
variations. Nevertheless, this culinary delight is a tradition in every aspect around the Hispanic side
of the continent. Up north in Mexico, Central/Caribbean, and way down to South America.
Furthermore, this cultural symbol spans more than 20 countries, all identically sharing the yellowish
cornmeal dough stuffed or engrained with local food. Hence, the vessel of the final wrapped package.
Therefore, terms such as Pastelle, Pasteles, Nacatamal, Tamal Pisques, Conkie, Pamonhas, Blue-Draws,
Bollos, Humitas, and Hallacas among others are diversity of terminologies identifying the tradition.
Last, the culture began to grow and expand just like Latin-Music smuggle embedded in the hearts of
the Africans dragged to America, who later melted with local natives.

The native Meso-Americans made different foods with cooked or boiled cornmeal wrapped in leaves
from the corn plant, plantains, bijao, maguey, avocados, or even aluminum foil and plastic.
Regardless, all are Tamales. The word descends from the Nahuatl word “Tamalli,” which means wrapped.
The filler might include meat, fish, veggies, chiles, fruits, sauce, beans, cheese, sour cream, etc.,
or it could be absent. It may also have a sweet or salty taste. Tamales were born as early as 8000–5000
BC in Mesoamerica. The indigenous cultures of Mexico and Guatemala may be the ones who introduced
tamale preparation to the rest of Latin America. This last affirmation has not been proven yet by scientists
and researchers. According to archaeologists Karl Taube, William Saturn, and David Stuart, Tamales may
have begun as early as 100 AD. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Tamale as: “• \tuh-MAH-lee\ •
noun: cornmeal dough rolled with ground meat, or beans seasoned usually with chili, wrapped usually
in corn husks, and steamed.” The Collins Dictionary gives us “US. Noun. a Mexican dish consisting of…
And the rest is the same.” The Mexican terminology is “Tamal.” Instead, Tamale is an Americanism due
to the vicinity between the two countries. Curiously, all the names have an Aboriginal origin concluding
that the dish is millenary. To show difference, “Ayúa” means to mix or stir. Thus, based on this phrase,
it is assumed that “ayuaca” is a mixed object that became known as “ayaca” owing to linguistic distortion.
Is where the word “Hallaca” originates from the Guaraní language (a tribe in the Venezuelan Amazon.)
There is also “Bojote,” another connotation meaning sort of a package.

Regardless of the word’s etymology, “Hallaca” is uniquely Venezuelan in name and preparation. Experts
in the subject consider the creation “the crème de la crème” of Venezuelan gastronomy. Armando Scannone
a famous Venezuelan gastronomical author, defined it very well: “The Tamal is a handful of corn with little
filling. The Hallaca is an excellent filling in a refined pocket of corn.”  Hallacas are part of every Venezuelan’s
table regardless of social status. It adds a touch of grace, taste, and color to the Christmas celebrations.
What’s more, when someone who grew up in this tradition grabs a bite of the “Yellow Masa,” for some reason,
the first thought coming to the mind is Grandma. Which draws the conclusion that this ritual is more than
a seasonal meal or a culture. It is a sentiment, an emotion, a thought. Indeed, a connection with loving memories.
There is something holy about this tradition. Sisters Laura (a professional chef) and Emily (a food writer)
from the website Mexicali Blue gave their own interpretation: “Mesoamerica believed that corn was a substance
of life. Hence, the gods designated humans as corn eaters. Corn was regarded as a life-giving substance in
Mesoamerica during the Mesozoic Era. In the ancient Near East, the gods are blamed for creating humans
from corn. It was one of the rituals performed with wrapped Tamales.”  

Before Venezuela, the country name was Nueva Granada, then La Gran Colombia, later due to a
misunderstanding between Bolivar and Santander, (centralists and federalists) they divided it into two
different countries Colombia and Venezuela. So, when referring to Hallacas, they can also be from
Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and down to Argentina. Obviously, with their evident differences.

Making Hallacas is a fun thing. I know this firsthand because we used to make them at home when I was
growing up during the holiday season. I remember when the time came to make them, one would be
assigned a position in the assembly line. It usually takes two days to make enough Hallacas for the whole
season. On the first day, fillings and all the toppings is the first step. The plantain leaves need
care and preparation. The leaves need a cleansing treatment. Some people smothered them with vinegar.
Others use direct fire to burn bacteria. It has the same effect. Then, the selection process follows, pockets
or wraps. Cut to size and organized by function for the wrapping. Chicken broth for the masa also belongs
to the first day. Once the preparation is ready, the fun begins. The process will reach a point where the crowd
cannot  make more Hallacas for lack of ingredients. So, time to mix the leftovers with the remaining masa
to make Bollos, the Venezuelan Tamale. The last step is to cook them thoroughly. Depending on the filling
(pre-cooked or raw,) the latter must be boiled inside the masa for a longer time for obvious reasons
(about 4 hours). This gathering creates a joyful bonding in the family group. The aroma from the achiote and
the scent of the plantain leaves are so intense that can be smelled in the distance. Holliday music, Carols,
and Gaitas (Venezuelan Christmas Folk) are the melody that surrounds the scented party house. Neighbors
usually join the fun to lend a hand and collect their share at the end of the event. Usually, they walk back home
with at least two Hallacas.

In conclusion, corn was dominated and developed by the Pre-Hispanics and in fusion with the conquistador’s
influence and ingredients, created all the variety of Tamales, Hallacas, Pasteles, etc. Naturally, geographical
positioning plays a role in the ingredients, styles, and flavors. So, if life brings a wrapped yellow corn dough
in a husk or plantain leave to your dish, do not forget you are eating the holly food from the African/American/
Aboriginal ancestors.



Ragoonanan, Nita. “Tamales Pisques.” 196 Flavors, 30 Dec. 2022,

Amaryah, Amara. “Tamales: The Dish That Connects the Caribbean and the Americas Back to Africa.” Travel Noire, 8 Feb. 2022, 

González, Lamberto. “El Tamal y Sus Orígenes.” Tamales Emporio,ógica%20muestra%20al,religiosos%2C%20en%20ofrendas%20y%20tumbas.Accessed 25 Mar. 2024.

Emily, Laura. “How to Make Tamales for Christmas Eve – Mexicali Blue.” Mexicali Blue, Accessed 25 Mar. 2024. 

Yonekura, Kaoru. “¿En Qué Se Diferencian La Hallaca y El Tamal?: Bienmesabe.” El Estímulo, Accessed 12 Dec 2023,