The one thing that I love in a restaurant is authenticity. If you go to Mom Moms Polish Kitchen in Bridesburg you will see that there really is a Mom Mom who has supplied the recipes for their delicious Polish food. If you go to Pescatore BYOB restaurant in Bala Cynwyd you will see that the meatball recipe is actually from a real Italian Grandmother.
I was excited to hear about how the staff from Puyero Venezuelan Flavor have started doing holiday cooking classes that will teach how to make an authentic Venezuelan holiday dinner featuring hallacas (Venezuelan tamales beautifully wrapped in green plantain leaves) at the restaurant at 524 South 4th Street in South Philly for just $30.
Upon invitation, I recently attended one of these cooking classes hosted by Puyero owners Gil Arends and Simon Arends and Gil’s wife Manuela Villasmil where they talked about the tradition of hallacas — a staple at Christmas — and demonstrated how to make them.
Puyero Chef Manuela, who has been making them since she was a small child, taught our small group how to make them. This was a fantastic learning experience and, I learned, hallacas are quite delicious.
“We are trying to share as much of the Venezuelan Christmas spirit as we can at Puyero,” said owner Gil Arends. “We’ve changed our dining room playlist but most importantly we are adding hallacas to our menu. We are excited to share one of our favorite customs with you.”
Hallacas are very similar to a tamale, but hallacas are only made during the Christmas season. Each one is made from corn dough and stuffed with a stew made from the meat of choice. The fat from the stew is also used to add extra flavor to the corn dough. It is then wrapped in plantain leaves, tied with strings, and boiled.
Generally, they are made at home. Families will gather to make hundreds of these is one day. Each family has their own particular recipes which in many cases has been passed down from generation to generation. These hallacas are then shared with your neighbours, friends, employees, and other family members. This is similar to the concept of sharing platters of Christmas cookies in America.
All throughout the end of November and through December fridges are filled with hallacas. People will eat them as they please. Some might have them for breakfast after a night partying, others for lunch, and some will save them for reunions and gatherings.
Cooking classes at Puyero are held on Wednesday November 14th at 6:30pm, Wednesday November 28th at 6:30pm and Wednesday December 5th at 6:30 pm. This is a very unique opportunity to learn a true authentic Venezuelan recipe and start a tradition in your own household for years to come. Tickets are going really fast so if you’re interested, click here to reserve your spot. It’s not often where you actually learn how to make a traditional recipe at a restaurant, so you do not want to miss it!
Also, between November 13 and December 30, look for the addition of three varieties of hallacas and Pan de jamón (Venezuelan Christmas bread) available on the menu at the South Street Headhouse District restaurant. Comforting Andres-style hot chocolate will also be available until the end of winter.
Hallaca Chicken $9.00 – Corn dough stuffed with chicken stew, adorned with potatoes, olives, raisins, and wrapped in plantain leaves
Hallaca Chicken and Pork $9.50 – Corn dough stuffed with chicken and pork stew, adorned with potatoes, olives, raisins, and wrapped in plantain leaves
Hallaca Veggie $8.00 – Corn dough stuffed with chicken stew, adorned with potatoes, olives, raisins, and wrapped in plantain leaves
Andes Style Hot Chocolate $3.00 – Thick and creamy hot chocolate with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla
Kevin is considered an expert in dining and hospitality customer service with 20,000+ regular followers on his restaurant reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. He’s the co-host of Dining on a Dime on Wildfire Radio every Sunday at 5 pm.