Venezuelan tamales highlight Navideña celebration Sunday in NoDa

Christmas is coming, and for many Latin American cultures that means it’s time to make tamales. This Sunday you can sample the Venezuelan version of holiday tamales – hallacas – at Parranda Navideña, Charlotte’s first Venezuelan Christmas celebration, hosted by Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa.

“For me, an hallaca is much more than just a dish,” says organizer Tony Arreaza. “Every December my entire family gathered to make them assembly-line-style. My mom made the filling (el guiso), my brother the dough (la masa), my dad cleaned the plantain leaves (la hoja) that you wrap them in, my sister tied the knot, and I was in charge of putting special marks on the ones that were spicy.”

Hours of chopping and simmering go into the hallaca’s filling. It’s a rich stew of beef, chicken and pork, plus raisins, olives and bits of bell pepper. “We make everything from scratch,” event cook Arlette Guerra de Hurtado says proudly, pointing to a crew that includes her mom, aunt and friends.

Sunday’s menu will also include rolled bread-and-ham (pan de jamon) and roast pork leg (pernil), plus Venezuelan holiday chicken salad. “Very different from your chicken salad, with carrots, potatoes, green apples, red onions,” explains Hurtado.

Along with the food, expect lots of music. Arreaza’s band Ultima Nota will be joined by Miami-based Juan Arcaya, famed for singing gaitas, the danceable songs that mark Venezuela’s Christmas. “We dance and we eat!” Hurtado says, laughing.