According to legend, in 1820 a Cuban parish priest noticed that attendance at mass was falling during the Christmas season. He sent children out into the community with cans, whistles, and trumpets to make a loud noise. Once they had everybody’s attention the children encouraged the people to attend church and to this day the festival of Las Parrandas is a distinctively Cuban Christmas celebration.
With Christmas not too far down the road, read on for some of the best Cuban food ideas for this year’s Christmas dinner.
Cuban Christmas Dinner
A Cuban Christmas is celebrated, not on Christmas Day itself but on Christmas Eve. This leaves Christmas Day for religious observance. If truth be known the Christmas Eve celebration is the culmination of almost 10 days of lively partying.
After the street parties, raucous music, and spectacular fireworks everybody is ready for the most exciting feast of the year, on Christmas Eve. Known as Nochebuena or “goodnight” this is the festival to top all festivals for people who know how to party. The party goes on until the early hours of Christmas morning.
For many Cubans the Christmas Dinner starts at midnight. It’s a family meal that Cubans, wherever they live, all over the world, would recognize. At its center is a traditional roast pig.
Something to Drink for Your Cuban Christmas Dinner?
No party is complete without a celebratory drink. The classic Cuban party drink is the Mojito.
A Mojito is made with white rum that has been muddled with cane sugar, lime wedges, and mint leaves. Muddling involves crushing and stirring the leaves of mint so they give up their juices and flavor.
Add lime juice and perhaps club soda. Garnish with a freshly sliced lime wedge.
For a richer Christmas drink, Cubans have their own version of eggnog called Crema de Vie. It’s made with condensed milk which is sweetened to taste. Add rum for a Christmas kick.
A refreshing alternative is Spanish cider. This comes in flat or sparkling varieties. An alcoholic or non-alcoholic option makes it a drink for all tastes.
The center-piece of the Cuban Christmas Dinner is the roast pig. This turns a substantial meal into a feast.
The traditional way to have roast pig is to roast a whole pig in the backyard. This is done in La Caja China or roasting box. This method of cooking speeds up the cooking time and produces succulent pork meat with smoky crisp crackling.
If a whole roast pig is too much then a suckling pig is a great alternative. It’s more suitable for a small family and still has the great succulent roast pork flavor.
The roast pig is flavored with a marinade containing orange, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Together with the smoke from the roasting box, the distinctive taste is mouth-wateringly delicious.
Black Beans and Rice
No Cuban would serve a Nochebuena dinner without a generous helping of rice and Cuban black beans alongside the pork. Known as Moros y Cristianos, this humble food is the perfect accompaniment for the rich meat. The rice takes on the dark color from the beans.
Tostones or plantains look like bananas but don’t try to eat one raw. They may be a relative of the banana but this is a savory vegetable that needs to be cooked.
The fried tostones are served with dipping sauces. These Cuban-style thick chips are a crispy and tasty accompaniment to the meal. They are also a great snack with a drink.
Yuca con Mojo
Yuca is a staple of the Cuban diet. They are eaten like potatoes to accompany meat and alongside other vegetables. Yuca is eaten across the Caribbean and also in African and Asian countries where it is sometimes known as cassava.
The yuca is prepared simply by peeling, cutting into chunks and boiling like a potato. Adding onions, garlic, and orange and lime juice together with cilantro brings it to life.
The final touch is to heat oil with cumin, oregano and season with salt and pepper. This sauce is poured over the yuca and served hot.
Arroz con Leche
Cubans have a sweet tooth. It’s traditional to end the Christmas family dinner with something sweet.
Rice pudding is an inexpensive family favorite in many parts of the world. A Cuban spin turns this comfort food into a party dish to remember.
Condensed milk creates a sweet and creamy base with comforting rice. Cinnamon adds spice and an exotic Christmas aroma. The distinctive Cuban character comes from the addition of lemon zest and a mint leaf.
Cuban’s make Bunuelos at Christmas time. They look like a twisted donut but they’re made from ground yuca and malanga, a root vegetable. They are flavored with anise.
The pastry is served with syrup or cane molasses. They are often sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Cake de Ron
No Christmas feast is complete without a Christmas cake. The Cuban version is especially festive. Rum is the ingredient that makes it both distinctively Cuban.
The Cuban rum cake is rich and moist. Its ingredients include the eggs, flour, sugar, and butter you would expect. In addition, there is vanilla, lemon peel, and dark rum.
Cuba’s most important crop is sugar cane. The alcohol produced from cane sugar, rum, finds its way into much of Cuba’s cooking. The Cake de Ron is a celebration of this magic ingredient.
The cake is served with a sauce made from more rum, banana liqueur, butter, and more sugar. It’s sweet and delicious.
Nothing represents Christmas better then turrón. This candy nougat has it’s roots in Spain but you’ll find turrones on every Cuban Christmas dinner table without fail.
Turrón comes in various flavors but the two most popular are turrón de alicante and turrón de jijona. Learn more about turrón by checking out our article, Spanish Turrón – Your Ultimate Guide.
Celebrate Cuban Christmas Dinner with Family and Friends
Every culture has its unique Christmas traditions. And Cubans have theirs too!
A Christmas dinner is a great time to get together with family and friends. Classic foods that you love to eat, remind you of home and past Christmas times. If you’ve never tasted them, make them part of your Christmas celebration and share the fun.
Learn more about other Latin Christmas food here.
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.