Christmas Dinner and Traditions in Loja, Ecuador

Whether you are visiting Loja or taking up residence, you might be wondering what the local food traditions are here for Christmas? Like all Christian countries which observe the holiday, some things are similar but with each region having unique dishes that make holiday memories special. Ecuador and Loja fall into the group of countries that have a big family gathering and meal on Christmas Eve. Children receive gifts and sweets in the evening and adults may take part in a 'Secret Santa' exchange. The holiday is much more low-key than the excessive consumerist frenzy it has become in North America. The menu might be a bit more like North American Thanksgiving meals in character which very often includes serving roasted turkey.

Because Christianity arrived in Loja and Ecuador with the Spanish, you might also be wondering what influence Southern Europe had on the kinds of Christmas dishes served in Ecuador? However, besides the day and reason for the celebration, Christmas cuisine in Loja has very little resemblance to the holiday foods served in Spain at this time of the year. The Spanish begin eating their way through every food group from soup to nuts on Christmas Eve and then start on the leftovers when they wake up the next day. Spaniards first whet their appetites with charcuterie boards of preserved meats and cheeses, then on to soup and seafood courses before going to roasts of lamb, pork, or ham, followed by cookies, candies, and an icing-topped yeast bread confection that resembles the "King Cakes" served in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. They finish this all off with champagne or bubbly cava toasts eaten with twelve grapes for good luck. This last part with the grapes does happen in Loja and the rest of Ecuador but is part of their New Year’s celebrations.

Christmas Joy, by Nathaly Poma Photography

As mentioned above, Ecuadorians, including Lojanos, will very often serve roast turkey as the centerpiece of their Christmas meal. Because many Lojanos may not have enough oven space or time to roast a turkey big enough for the entire crowd, the bird is often ordered up and delivered cooked and ready to eat. There are also fully cooked and frozen whole turkeys at the large supermarket chains as well as raw birds if you want to cook one yourself. If you feel like you have eaten enough turkey to last you a lifetime, you have many other choices of festive Christmas dishes to explore in Loja. First, be aware that our local restaurants and hotels will be thrilled to serve you and yours Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, but put your reservations in early so you will get the spot you desire.

Ecuadorian food writer 'Laylita,' who hails from Vilcabamba but attended school in the city of Loja before moving to the US, gives excellent details about what to make for your Ecuadorian Christmas dinner on her website. Laylita recommends Pernil Lojano as a delicious and popular main dish alternative to turkey. We wholeheartedly agree with her! Pernil, which takes its name from the Spanish for 'leg' (pierna) is usually made with a bone-in and skin-on pork shoulder. Slow cooked Pernil is a mainstay of Caribbean and northern South American menus, but Loja’s variation is simply wonderful, made with a marinade of pureed bitter orange juice, red onion, lots of garlic, achiote (annatto), cloves, cinnamon, cumin, and panela (local brown sugar) rubbed into deep incisions made in the skin and meat before roasting. The meat is fork tender and flavorful and the crispy skin is a delicacy not to be missed!

All this talk of roasts begs the question of what else is served? Lojano traditional drinks also don't disappoint. Canelazo is one suggestion, a warm mulled drink made with local aguardiente 'firewater' (sugar cane alcohol) spiced with cinnamon, and mixed with water and sugar. Naranjillazo, another delicious drink, is also canelazo but with the addition of naranjilla or 'little orange,' a local fruit that you can obtain in pulp form ready to use from the supermarket. Ecuadorians are red wine drinkers, therefore, a full bodied variety for the table will be good with your pork roast or turkey. Alcohol, including wine and spirits, are for sale in most grocery stores. Ecuador produces some table wine, but there are excellent low- or duty-free wines imported from Spain, Argentina, and Chile that are a fraction of the cost of what they would be in North America. Christmas would be the perfect occasion to start familiarizing yourself with the outstanding red wines available here.   

Besides the main dish and drinks, Lojanos will often serve 'Russian Salad' (ensalada rusa) which is very similar to potato salads in North America, but made with potatoes, carrots, peas, apples, celery, onion, and mayonnaise. This may strike you as an interesting choice, but Christmas falls in the warmer months of the Southern hemisphere. For dessert, a cake brought in from a local bakery is also very common. We talked about the limited oven space available in Lojano home ovens, so pastry making is outsourced by many families. Loja is very similar to Europe in this regard, where there is a bakery within walking distance of every home and everyone will bring in freshly baked rolls and pastries daily for their continental breakfast with Loja's blue-ribbon coffee.

If you are lucky enough to be here in Loja for Christmas then you've picked a great time and place to enjoy this holiday. We wish you ¡Feliz Navidad y buen provecho!

This blog post is an example of how the team at Life in Loja helps tourists and visitors, expats and immigrants, to better appreciate the many aspects of living in Loja, Ecuador. If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.

¡Feliz Navidad!


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