Windy weather has had its influence on Costa Rican Christmas food

The chilly winds of December have had an influence on Christmas food. This is a time for hot food and hot drinks.

One of the traditional Christmas foods is the tamal, a mixture of pork or beef and vegetables inserted into a corn flour masa and then baked and boiled inside a banana leaf.

Although the tamal is available year round in stores and some homes, it is identified with Christmas. It is similar to the Venezuela hallaca but that dish usually is bigger and has a stronger taste.

Aserrí is the traditional home of the tamal because several companies there make them in large quantities. Those who wish to make their own also can purchase the masa by the kilo at various outlets.

The banana leaves are available all over the country.

Typically two tamales are tied together with string, creating what is called a piña.

These foods have their origins in Spanish cuisine and also what was eaten by the Native Costa Ricans before Columbus. In fact, every Latin country seems to have its version of the tamal.

Tamales usually are eaten with Costa Rican coffee, particularly when the wind is blowing. But there is a holiday drink that will make revelers tipsy and fat. It is rompope, the Costa Rican eggnog. The drink is available all year in major stores. The base is milk and eggs.

Nuns in a convent in Puebla, México, get the credit for this version of the drink. They used a similar drink from Spain as a model in the 17th century. Usually guaro or a light rum is used to spike the drink but non-alcoholic versions are available.

At Christmas some also heat the rompope and add a little cinnamon and maybe some ground walnuts.

There are enough versions of the various Christmas drinks and dishes that the culture ministry has made an effort to collect the recipes. They are available in a number of booklets featuring regional dishes.

For example the food and beverages this time of year in Limón are vastly different than what is served in the Central Valley.

The typical tamal ready to be consumed with a beer.

The typical tamal ready to be consumed with a beer.

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