Monday, December 29, 2014

Canelazo - A traditional Ecuadorian Holiday drink from the Andes

How do you stay warm on those cold holiday days and nights?

Some common remedies consist in sitting in front of the fireplace while sipping hot chocolate, or a hot, freshly prepared soup.

Today I offer you another solution: Canelazo!

The Canelazo is a traditional drink from Ecuador’s Andean región.

But it is consumed around the country, especially during Holiday festivals and celebrations.

If you want to talk about Ecuadorian Holiday beverages, there can be no other than the Canelazo.

What is a Canelazo?

A canelazo is usually prepared with spices like cinnamon and cloves, and of course aguardiente.

This drink is traditional during the colder period of rainy season in the Andes, and it’s very popular way to warm up in the cold nights around the Holidays.

For many, the canelazo is a pretext to get social, meet and talk with relatives and friends, and enjoy the holiday time together.

People enjoy both the canelazo made with alcohol and just the hot drink without liquor, it depends on how you want to drink it.

The origins of canelazo are unknown, but it has been consumed in the Andes for a very long time without interruption.

The traditional way to prepare Canelazo

Something to keep in mind is that Ecuadorian aguardiente  is different from the Colombian one because it is not aniseed.

The aguardiente normally used for canelazo is known as punta (shot) or puro (pure).

Both kinds of liquors are made from sugarcane juice with different fruit flavors.

If you cannot find Ecuadorian spirits, I recommend using the Brazilian cachaca or white rum, which have the most similar flavor.

Canelazo and Naranjillazo

There are many different variations of the canelazo, depending on the area.

One of the most popular variations is naranjillazo.

It is prepared like the canelazo, but the water is replaced with naranjilla juice.

The naranjilla, known as lulo in Colombia and it looks very similar to sharon but taste different, is an acid flavor fruit.

It looks like a small orange and is used in the preparation of juices, cocktails, ice cream, desserts and meat dishes.

If you find it difficult to find fresh you can use the pulp or concentrate naranjilla or lulo.

It can be found in most stores that sell Latin products.

With or without alcohol, the way you prefer it!

Both canelazo as naranjillazo are delicious, but also are a bit treacherous when made with alcohol.

And they should be drunk with precaution.

Since they are sweet flavored and the alcohol is very smooth they can result in a good hangover.

The amount of alcohol used usually varies according to the preparer.

You can make them stronger if you wish, or use less alcohol.

Both drinks are also very delicious without alcohol.

If you don’t consume alcohol, just do them without the spirits and you have a delicious hot drink, perfect for the season!



6 cups water
8 sticks of cinnamon
6 cloves
1 cup brown sugar
Aguardiente (white rum) to taste
1 medium lime, thinly sliced



4 cups water
2 cups concentrate naranjilla, previously frozen
1 ¼ cup sugar and grated panela
8 sticks of cinnamon
4 cloves
2 all spice
Aguardiente (white rum) to taste

Here a guide to the amount of liquor – you can customize the drinks according to your taste or how cold it is:

For a light canelazo, add to each canelazo 1 oz glass of liquor.
For medium canelazo, add to each cup of canelazo 1.5 ounces of liquor.
For a strong canelazo, add to each cup of canelazo 2 ounces of liquor.


1. Combine all ingredients except the alcohol and lime, in a medium saucepan.
2. Bring them to a boil, then reduce the heat and let them simmer in a covered pot for 10-15 minutes.

3. Stir in the liquor.

4. Slice the lime in thin slices and decorate each glas or cup with one slice and a stick of cinnamon.
5. Serve immediately.

Tip: You can also use Passion fruit juice instead of naranjilla, it will give a bit different taste but equally exquisite!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Songs of the Child - Los Cantos del Niño by Leonor Bravo

This is a Christmas story from the province of Manabí in Ecuador. It has been written by Leonor Bravo and translated by me. All the errors are mine.

The Songs of the Child - Los Cantos del Niño

Leonor Bravo

The air smells like oranges, mandarins, mangos, like Christmas. The air smell like my grandmother, Mamita Rosa.

In Dicember, when it’s so hot that if were just a little bit hotter the dry corn would pop in their kernels all by itself, filling the air with tiny white blossoms, my grandmother leaves her farm up from the green mountain where the huge trees are filled with leaves. According to here, it’s so that the heat and the mosquitos wouldn’t eat her alive. But I know it’s not just for the heat, it’s because she wants to spend the Christmas with us and sing chigualos to the Christmas Child. (Chigualos are Christmas Carols sung in the province of Manabí in Ecuador.)

Besides, Holidays without her wouldn’t be real Holidays because nobody knows how to make the aguado, or tamales or the little Christmas cakes like her. And nobody here sings to the Child like she does.

The Christmas and my grandmother are one and the same, there isn’t one without the other. When La Candelaria comes in February 2nd and the Christmas Child is stored away for the next Christmas and the Holidays end, she returns to her little farm and doesn’t come back before the next December.

Mamita Rosa, sitting on the floor, makes wind with her colored fan, weaved from toaquilla straw. She is always clad in white, magical white that never gets dirty even when the stove is filled with ashes. My grandmother beats the milk with one hand and with the other moves slowly the wooden tray until the milk isn’t liquid anymore but has gotten compact and smooth, ready to eat with grilled ripe plantain bananas.

- You need to be strong to make butter – she laughs and two dimples form in her cheeks -, if you stop beating for a moment you’ll get short milk o get watery. You need to learn well to be able to continue the tradition. I was taught by my mother, and she was taught by my grandmother. This butter isn’t the same as the ones sold in the store. Do you see? This is white and that is our secret. Besides this butter tastes better.

- Are we going to make salprieta tomorrow, Mamita Rosa – I ask – Do you remember that you promised to teach me how during these Holidays? (Salprieta is peanut paste made with maize that is traditionally prepared in the province of Manabí.)

- Today the butter and tomorrow salprieta, everything on its own time, my girl. With the food you cannot do two things at the time. There is a time for everything, that is how the things are done better, there is no reason to live in a hurry.

- Is it true that this a really old food? – I ask, because since she was a teacher, she knows a lot of things.

- Yes, my girl, this food was done here before the Spaniards came. Don’t you see how all the ingredients are our own? The maize, the peanut, the achiote. This is why we cannot let them disappear. Can you imagine what our deceased would think if we would stop doing it? They would say we are forgetting, that would make them sad and they would come to visit us to complain.

- Huy!

- It is not good thing to get a visit from the late ones, especially if they are angry.

 In the corridor, that has bamboo cane walls, there is a little bit of fresh breeze from the distant sea. My mom arrives with a basket full of oranges and mandarins and she sits down with us. Mamita Rosa is an expert orange peeler; with a small and sharp knife she quickly peels the whole skin without breaking it.  Afterwards, wearing the fragrant crowns, we play to be queens. The cooling air smells like oranges and mandarins.

- Mamita, don’t forget that we need to start practicing chigualos – my mother says -. This year Flor del Alba will sing the welcoming and you need to help her. – She looks me with love in her eyes and arranges the orange crown in my head.

- Don’t you worry, mija, we’re going to start right now. We were just having a break. Let me get my strength back with these oranges and then we’ll start. Besides we need to assemble the manger, or where are we going to sing?

I’m a bit nervous. The last Christmas, Mamita Rosa asked for me to be the one who sings the welcome in the Rise of the Christmas Child, and although I sing well, just like my grandmother and my mother, I’m afraid that I’ll get something wrong. I have been practicing the whole year but if I get nervous I could forget everything. And the Child will get offended if you sing him wrong.

With pieces of bamboo cane, palm tree and cade leaves we build the manger. One by one, we take out the figurines that are kept, well wrapped in a paper, in a box throughout the rest of the year, so they won’t get damaged. The first to come out are always the Virgin and St. Joseph, because they are the Child’s parents. Then we take out the pastors, the cows, the donkeys, the sheep and the goats. We make the road through which the visitors come from river stones and sand. And to the sky, over the manger, where they should be, we hang the angels, that my uncle Francisco sent us from Spain, with cord and few sticks. At the end we take out the Magi, because they came last to visit the Child. The Child stays alone in the box because he’s still a sleep.

Mamita Rosa takes a wooden wagon with two horses from her purse.

- This is so that the Child doesn’t get tired even when he has to come walking. You know that he needs to come from so far? – she says – This way we’ll help him a little.

She always brings something new for the manger because she thinks that it’ll give good luck for the coming year.

I decorate everything with pieces of colored paper so that the manger doesn’t look so sad. Especially now that the lights are burned out and the new ones that my dad promised to buy from the town hasn’t arrived yet. I hope he’ll bring the ones that go on and off on their own because it’ll make the manger look alive to everyone. Manuelito, that is how my grandmother calls the Child God, we put in the manger after the mass on 24th, because that is the day when he is born.

From the living room windows we watch people passing by on their way to their homes for the evening meal. And afterwards we go for a walk in the park. Mamita Rosa gives me maracas and she brings a guasá. (Guasá is an instrument that is used in marimba bands and sacred ceremonies.)

Her hands are dark and full like the hands of a small child, they move around and her whole body follows like she would like to dance.

- First you sing alone, because I want to hear you, afterwards I’ll accompany you – she says to me while she hums the tone.

I feel nervous but she smiles at me and I feel better.

Ya llegó el niñito
Ya está en el pesebre,
Por eso cantamos
Toditos alegres.
Niñito bonito
Carita de santo
Este 24
Alegre le canto.

Qué viva la noche
Jazmincito chino
Abra su botón
Saquemos al niño
A la procesión

I sing all the chigualos that I can remember and it seems that I’m in tune because she listens to me seriously. Then she sings with me and her voice, that is stronger and more beautiful than mine, sounds throughout the house.

- Now, let’s sing the counterpoints - Mamita Rosa says – I sing and you answer me. You need to learn that because they’ll always be someone who wants to surprise you and you need to know what to say:

Cantemos cantemos
Con toda la boca
Pa ver si nos dan
Un café con rosca.

And I answer her:

Niñito bonito
No hay café tostao,
No alcanza comida
Pa los invitaos.
Niñito bonito
Vestido de blanco
A esa que no canta
Bótela del banco.

And we both laugh out loud.

That night, sitting in the hammock, after we have pealed the toasted peanuts for the salprieta, and while we are sucking at the mangos, she tells me stories of the animals from the mountains and the forests. Like how the uncle rabbit outwitted the uncle fox or the uncle tiger. Or stories of the spirits that roam the mountains looking for the imprudent people who go out during the night to take them to the other world. She sees that I’m afraid and lights a stick of rosewood. Its fragrance mixes with the mango and everything smells sweet. Before we go to bed, she tells me something that makes me laugh so I won’t go to sleep scared and have nightmares.

The next morning she wakes me up early. The whole house smells like just roasted coffee beans that I can drink only because she is visiting. From among the ashes of the kitchen firewood she takes out the ripe plantain bananas and we eat them with the fresh butter and salprieta that we still have and cracklings.

The time flies by when she is around because she teaches me to do so many things and she always has a new story to tell me. Some of them are true and have happened to someone, others are fairytales and others are just invented.

On 23rd we start with the chigualos so that the Child will wake up and come soon:

Viene, viene ya
Viene, viene ya
El juego del niño,
De la Navidad.
Nacen los pastores,
Pronto bajará,
El niño Manuelito,
De la Navidad.

On 24th we all go to the procession in the church so that the Child can be blessed and given to its new godparents. When we return to home, my mother with don Rámon and his wife, who are the godparents, offer mistelas, eggnogs and church wine. (Mistelas are a traditional sweet for the Christmas time in the province of Manabí.)

The Child is in the manger in the living room that is filled with people. The living room and the manger are decorated with wreaths and garlands of colors and little lights that turn on and off. I stand next to the manger with my dad, who plays the guitar, and my Mamita Rosa, who plays the guasá. I sing alone the first chigualos and even the Child God smiles at me. Then my grandmother sings and everyone else joins in.

Ya llegó el niñito
Ya está en el pesebre,
Por eso cantamos
Toditos alegres.
Tráiganle un gorrito
Que se bautizó.
Vivan los padrinos,
Viva el Niño Dios.

After the food, aguados, little cakes and tamales, when the midnight comes, the godfather, don Ramón, covers the Child with a white handkerchief and asks for permission from him to start the dance. The first to dance are my parents who are the owners of the house and godparents to the Child God.

We, the children, go out to play traditional games like Pájara Pinta, Viudita del Conde Laurel, Carbonerita, Mantantirum tirulán. Mamita Rosa offers us traditional sweet Christmas treats like alfajores, huevos mollos, suspiros and dulce de leche.

How good it is that while the adults dance and continue with the chigualos, the Child does not wake up! This is Christmas at our house. This is how it goes until the February when the Child goes away to return in the next December, just like my Mamita Rosa.

Es 2 de febrero
Son las candelarias
Yo le canto al Niño
Antes que se vaya.
¡Ay!, que pena tengo
Qué aflicción me da
Al ver que el Niñito
Pronto se nos va.

Las velas de esperma
Se van derritiendo
Y el niñito Dios
Se va despidiendo.

No lloren pastoras
Que el niño se siento
Hasta este otro año

No estará presente.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pase del Niño - Passing of the Child in Christmas

All Ecuador celebrates Christmas.

The streets and churches have special decoration with Nativity scenes, lighting and ornaments.

Ecuadorian Christmas celebrations are a colorful, and often bizarre, mixture of the sacred and the profane.

The majority of holidays in Ecuador are the result of the Christian colonization that modified the rituals and celebrations of the indigenous community.

Andean and ancestral religion moved to the Catholic religion which until today is charged of syncretism with indigenous ancestral world and nature.

Pase del Niño

One of the Ecuadorian Christmas traditions is Pase del Niño, or Passing of the Child.

It is a time-honored festival of thanksgiving and homage that combines Catholic and indigenous traditions.

Pase del niño is a religious procession representing the characters of Christmas with tableau vivant.

Joseph and Mary with the child in arms on a donkey pass through the streets; the community with prayers and songs accompanies them.

Pase del Niño is celebrated in every school, high school, municipality and parish.

The procession includes the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, pastors, angels and different animals.

But it may also include a Santa Clause, elves, clowns, featured floats, decorated cars, flowers, fruits and vegetables and anything the Ecuadorian imagination can come up with.

Introduced to Latin America by the Spanish almost 500 years ago, the Pase del Niño is a Christmas celebration in which likenesses of the infant Jesus are carried through towns and villages.

In Ecuador, the tradition remains strongest in the Andean region.

Every neighborhood and town will have its own parade with its own entries.

Each will carry its own statue of the Christ child.

This is something that communities plan for the entire year.

A Christmas procession that goes on until the Carnival

Although the Christmas Eve parade may be the main event, the Pase del Niño celebration is a three-month-long activity.

It begins the first Sunday after Advent and continues to Carnival in early March.

In addition, the nativity scene or so-called "nacimientos", are assembled in the majority of Ecuadorian homes, which are representations of the birth of Jesus.

The families gather around the nativity scene in their houses to pray the traditional novena before December 25.

Novenas are nine consecutive nights of song, food and prayer, celebrated in homes and churches.

On Christmas Eve, the Misa del Gallo, or Rooster Mass, is celebrated in the Cathedral and local churches.

The midnight mass or “Misa del Gallo”, is celebrated at midnight, and is called Rooster Mass because you are supposed to be able to hear the roosters waking up while getting back to home.

In this way people receive December 25 to commemorate the birth of the baby Jesus.

Traditions of Pase del Niño

There are two types of Passes: greater and minor.

The first ones are those with a great number of participants.  In these processions the people worship a Niño Dios (God as a child) that belongs to a temple or religious community.

The minor Pass involves a smaller number of participants and it is generally of familiar nature.

There is also a very complex ritual preceding the performance of Passes, it includes an invitation and watch.

The invitation is extended with many months in advance and it is addressing the city people as well as peasants.

All guests get a present from the president; it is usually of sweet bread commonly known as “costar” and a glass of “chicha” (a sweet drink).

Accepting the gift will mean a commitment to take part in the Pass.

Finally, the night before mass, a watch is performed.

All participants “accompany” the image of Niño Dios in a church when it is a greater Pass, and the host’s home when it is a minor Pass.

When the watch is performed at someone’s home it is very common for the guests to bring along liquor and food to celebrate the event which will end at dawn with a cup of coffee, canelazos or hot chocolate and a piece of bread.