holiday traditions // latin american style

Friday, December 23, 2011
Debbi DiMaggio

Discoveries by Debbi DiMaggio

This year the holiday season began for me at a Williams-Sonoma Cooking Class just a few weeks before Christmas.

Our view from the top floor of Williams-Sonoma on Union Square at Christmas

Learning about other cultures fascinates me. I am naturally drawn to Caribbean and Mediterranean cultures… the passion, food and music. So, when the co-owner of Pica Pica Maize Kitchen invited me to experience Venezuelan Christmas traditions, I said, “of course!”


First, I went to a Hallaca cooking class at Williams-Sonoma, Union Square. From my perspective, the Hallaca is a lot like the Spanish tamale. I can see why families would take days to make them… very involved. Adriana Lopez, chef and co-owner, and her crew from Pica Pica made it easy. We rolled the maize, stacked the mixture, and wrapped and tied them in the leaves.

A little lesson: In Venezuelan cuisine, a Hallaca (“hayaca”) typically involves a mixture of meat (we had chicken) capers, sweet raisins and zesty olives wrapped in maize (cornmeal dough), bound with string within plantain leaves, and boiled afterwards, very tasty.

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Then I was invited to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa for “Parranda 2011.”  (photo above).  I experienced more great food from Pica Pica, and tasted unique wines from South America by Taste Vino ( ), but the best part was what followed… line dancing with our new friends from Pica Pica. Everyone dancing knew the words and dance steps, song after song. A little secret about myself…many do not know, but I listen to Latin and Hispanic music when driving in my car. No, I don’t understand the lyrics, but I love the beat. I enjoy it so much it seems that I must understand the words, it fills my soul and makes me smile.

Another lesson: Parranda is a musical form from the coastal area of Venezuela where the tambora (drum) becomes the main accompanying instrument. Parrandas are musical festivities during the Christmas season holiday.

I have to admit that after trying the various items on the menu, one of my TOPS is the Yucca fries (you can order them plain or with garlic). They alone are worth making the drive; whether to Pica Pica Maize Kitchen in San Francisco on Valencia Street or at Oxbow Napa.

Next on my list, Flamenco dance lessons with Adriana… There is always more to discover!

 Feliz Navidad     Merry Christmas     Happy 2012!



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2 Responses

  1. Adriana says:

    Thanks Debbie for joining us and learning about our holiday traditions. I really enjoyed having you at WS and the Parranda. and well, your Pan de Jamon was worth photographing… it turned out beautiful! I hope to see you sooner but if not, next year at the Parranda for sure.

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