Traditional Christmas Food in Puerto Rico

On the mainland, you'll find the typical staples of an American Christmas like fruitcake, eggnog, and ham, but in Puerto Rico, you're more likely to come across different versions of these Christmas classics. The following Puerto Rican Christmas foods blend the island's tropical and Spanish influences, similar to Puerto Rican Thanksgiving.

If you're curious about some of the treats that will be on the table during your Christmas trip to Puerto Rico, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the ingredients and flavors that go into these Puerto Rican holiday specialties.

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Tembleque, which means "trembling or wiggly," in Spanish, is a coconut-based pudding that goes down smooth and easy after a rich holiday meal. Creamy and jiggly, this Puerto Rican sweet treat is perfect for the holidays, parties, or anytime a special dessert is in order.

Tembleque is made by cooking coconut milk, salt, cornstarch, cinnamon, and sugar. Recipes may include spices such as cloves, vanilla, and nutmeg or extra flavorings such as rum, orange blossom water and cream of coconut, or may be garnished with mint, almonds, fruit, flavored syrup, or chocolate shavings.

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Lechón Asado

roast sucking pig (lechon)
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Lechon, or roast suckling pig, is a regional specialty. Due to the amount of time it takes to prepare a pig on a spit, it's typically a weekend tradition and a favorite for group gatherings.

At Christmas, a whole spit-roasted pig is like the Puerto Rican version of a Christmas table's centerpiece, as it is on display, with its juicy flesh encased in an outer layer of fat and crackling skin. 

It is often a topic of conversation by the family for a while, like which farm it came from, what herbs and seasoning were used to prepare it, and, usually the most important question, "When will it be ready?"

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Salvadorian tamales
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Pasteles, or meat pastries, are a traditional Christmas food. Usually made with pork, they're wrapped in plantain leaves for a festive look that resembles wrapped presents.

They are similar to Mexican tamales but are made from green banana or plantain and yautia (a starchy locally grown tuber) as the masa. They are quite labor-intensive to prepare, which is why you find them only on special occasions.

Some stuffing varieties can include poultry, pork, beef, olives, capers, almonds, potatoes, dates, raisins, or chickpeas. Popular seasonings include bay leaves, onion, red peppers, tomato sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, and annatto oil.

Assembling a typical pastel involves a large sheet of parchment paper, a strip of banana leaf that has been heated over an open flame to make it supple, and a little annatto oil on the leaf. The masa is then placed on a banana leaf and stuffed with the meat mixture. The paper is then folded and tied with kitchen string to form packets. It is not unusual for a family to make 50 to 100 at a time

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Holiday eggnog with cinnamon sticks.
Getty Images/Diane Macdonald

Coquito is Puerto Rico's take on eggnog. It is a coconut-based alcoholic beverage that combines rum, cinnamon, cloves, coconut milk, vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and egg. It's a rich, creamy drink, and usually, almost every Puerto Rican household will have a glass ready on Christmas Day.  

Coquitos are usually served in shot glasses or small cups and are garnished with grated nutmeg or cinnamon.

Coquitos are named for coqui, which is the common name for several species of small frogs that are native to Puerto Rico. They are onomatopoeically named for the very loud mating call, which the males make at night.