A Pedacito Of El Nuevo Año En Peru
My favorite New Year’s traditions in Peru both involve food and the best of those is the chocolatada. Peruvians hold chocolatadas throughout the holiday season, but they’re especially important on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
I’ve been invited to “small” chocolatadas hosted by a family for about twenty people and to chocolatadas done for an entire village. A chocolatada can be as simple as making hot chocolate together or it can involve a whole meal that goes with the hot chocolate.
The recipe is more impressive when you’re making hot chocolate for a whole village:
1 giant cauldron of boiling water
10 liters of fresh milk
2-kilo bars of pure cacao
2 kilos of sugar
1 handful of cloves
1 cinnamon stick the size of my forearm
For this recipe, you need to get 10-liter milk can directly from the dairy. Since it’s fresh, you do have to boil the milk; hence, the importance of starting with a cauldron of boiling water. You add the milk, bring it back to a boil, then add the two bars of chocolate, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon.
Hot chocolate in Peru almost always has cloves and cinnamon. It takes some time for the chocolate to dissolve but eventually it will and then you ladle it out to everybody who shows up with a mug or cup of some sort.
The other important ingredient in a chocolatada is panettone, a slice of sweet Italian bread that’s like a cross between brioche and fruitcake. In Peru, it’s called panetón and it’s everywhere in December.
Every shop sells panetón and all employers give panettones to their employees. There are small, personal panettones and big ones that weigh two kilos and are enough to feed a whole family.
The sugar in the hot chocolate and panetón are enough to keep you wired till midnight. Then it’s time to pass around platters of grapes so that everybody can grab a bunch. The tradition is that right at midnight, you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the coming year.
Some people say that you can make a wish on each grape, some say that just eating twelve grapes brings you good luck all twelve months. Wishing and luck aside, it’s very important to eat twelve grapes right at midnight.
After the grapes, some families also go around hugging each other and wishing each member of the family a happy new year. This is often accompanied by confetti. The way it works is this: You get a handful of confetti and for each person, you hug, you put some on their head as you wish them a happy new year.
Those with curly hair end up with piles of confetti on their heads while those who shave their heads get it all down the necks of their shirts. Either way, it’s messy and a lot of fun.
There’s another tradition that I’m less of a fan of; yellow underwear. Yellow decorations and confetti are everywhere, symbolizing gold and a prosperous New Year. Yellow confetti, besides being piled on people’s heads, is also strewn around the outside of the home.
Some people say it’s strictly to bring financial prosperity and others say that it brings good luck in general. Of course, this also means that green grapes are preferred over purple grapes at midnight.
I enjoy the yellow decorations, confetti, and grapes but I do not like it when my helpful friends and neighbors ask me what color underwear I am wearing. They just want to make sure that I have bought new yellow underwear to bring in a prosperous New Year.
Still, the color of my underwear should not be open for neighborhood discussion. I steer the conversation back to the chocolatada recipe and pass around another platter of grapes.
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