Does it get any better than December in Miami? While most of the country puts on layers and takes out the snow shovels, South Floridians fret over which postcard-perfect beach to have an al fresco picnic at. Another plus? Living in a patchwork of Latin American cultures means a myriad of food and drink holiday traditions get written into the mix, making spending the holidays in the Magic City a uniquely delicious experience. We’ve rounded up our top favorites below.
Think of it as the prettier, better-liked cousin of eggnog. Coquito, which translates to “little coconut,” is a Christmas beverage with origins in Puerto Rico that blends coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, and rum. It makes its debut in November and sticks around through the end of each year. Aficionados of the boozy beverage can find an iteration of the drink in Cafe La Trova, Kush By Stephen’s, Hialeah, and the Ritz-Carlton, Coconut Grove’s handsome bar, the Commodore. For those wanting to take the party home, online orders can be made at Coquito Miami 305 (offering a variety of flavors that will make a Starbucks menu look small) and Candela, which sells a gift set that includes a bottle of legendary Dominican Republic spiced rum, Mamajuana. Nutella enthusiasts will want to head to Empanada Harry’s for the hazelnut chocolate blended coquito.
Pan de Jamon
A Venezuelan favorite, this slightly sweet bread is rolled with ham (and sometimes bacon), olives, and raisins and is hard to resist. While there’s much debate over the proper way to incorporate the sweet and savory filling for the best distribution per bite, top contenders include Caracas Bakery, Portuguese Majestic Bakehouse, Empanada Harry’s, and Sweet Manifesto (inside Shoma Bazaar).
Whole Roasted Pig
Unlike ham or turkey, aka Christmas Eve, the centerpiece of a Cuban Nochebuena is a whole-roasted pig, typically prepared in a “Caja China” (Chinese box). This roasting box is the cooking method de rigueur that renders a succulent holiday meal. Those wanting to give it a go at home can purchase a Caja China here, or for those wanting the flavor without the trouble, restaurants like La Esquina del Lechon or Cebada Rooftop, which does a Caja China pig roast every first Wednesday of the month.
Venezuelans look forward to the holiday season for the special dishes as much as for the gifts under the Christmas tree. Hallacas, yellow masa filled with a hearty blend of pork, meat, and chicken stewed with olives and raisins wrapped in banana leaves and then simmered, is the official holiday kickoff. Thanks to the sizeable Venezuelan community here, these bundles of flavor can be found throughout the city. Bring your appetite and head to Doggi Arepa bar or La Latina for a taste. Want to take some home? Moises Bakery and Budare Bistro (with a “Plato Navideño that includes both Pan de Jamon and Hallacas) are home runs. Vegans can head to Doral’s La Margarita Wonderfood market for a flavorful rendition.
Traditionally consumed on New Year’s Day, which also marks Haiti’s Independence Day, this rich and savory pumpkin soup holds great cultural significance for Haitians. Before the country’s independence in 1804, it was seen as a delicacy and forbidden to the enslaved people under French rule. It then became a celebratory dish representing freedom. Head to Little Haiti staples like Chef Creole or Naomi’s Garden for a sampling. Note that some places only serve it on New Year’s Day, so call ahead.
Rosca de Reyes
For Latin American communities, the holidays run until January 6, marking Three Kings Day — and another opportunity for children to receive gifts. Family gatherings include eating Three Kings bread, or “Rosca de Reyes,” a circular, sweet bread (sometimes sliced lengthwise and filled with pastry cream) topped with candied fruit to represent the jewels of a crown. Baked inside: a tiny plastic baby Jesus doll. In Mexican tradition, whoever finds it has to make tamales for the upcoming Christian holiday Candlemas on February 2. The cake will appear closer to the end of December in bakeries like Bachour’s, Delicias De España, and Gilbert’s Bakery. Check with each bakery about pre-ordering.