Pasteles are a traditional Puerto Rican recipe, and a cherished dish among the Puerto Rican people.  The masa, or the dough, is typically made of grated green banana, yautia, green plantain, and calabazas.  This dough is filled with a meat stew, typically containing some combination of pork, ham, achiote oil, onion, cilantro, tomato sauce, garbanzo beans, olives, and pimentos.  The dough and meat filling are wrapped up in a banana leaf and tied with string, then cooked in boiling water.  Alternatively, they can be frozen at this point for later use.  When cooked, the banana leaf is unwrapped and the delicious cooked dough filled with meat is eaten.  They are usually served with a side of other holiday dishes, such as arros con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas[1].  Versions of this dish exist in the cuisines of many Latin American and Pacific countries, in many cases the ingredients differ slightly, and the dish goes by a different name.  Versions of the pastele are found in the Venezuela (where they are called hallacas) Mexico (called tamales), the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Colombia, Trinidad, and Hawaii.  The ingredients of pasteles bring together a diverse range of ingredients with origins from around the world, but the roots of this recipe are reflected by the ingredients characteristic to Latin American cuisine.

Pasteles are believed to have been created by the American Taíno Native American tribe, which originated around Venezuela. Christopher Columbus came into contact with this tribe when he sailed to the Americas.  When he attempted to establish the first American colony in Hispaniola, relations between the natives and the colonists quickly deteriorated. The colonists wanted to exploit the land for mining and resources, which hindered the natives from growing food.[2]

However, pasteles’ origins can also be traced back to African slaves in America who brought things like bananas as well as cooking techniques like frying, with them from Africa, which quickly spread throughout Puerto Rico. It was a combination of ingredients and cooking techniques from Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans that eventually led to the creation of pasteles.

Pasteles are a treasured holiday dish in Puerto Rico. They are so beloved that A National Festival of Puerto Rican Pasteles is held every November in the city of Orocovis[3].  The complex process of making pasteles is an important holiday tradition. Because the process is so labor-intensive, some families today order the pasteles from caterers or buy them from a neighbor who is dedicated to the tradition. However, the families that do make pasteles themselves gather in the kitchen and form an assembly line. Each person has a job that has to be done hundreds of times to make a large quantity of pasteles. According to Roberto Múcaro Borrero, a Puerto Rican who is in touch with his culture’s traditions, “Even today, making pasteles is still a family affair, for example, your Mom might grate the yucca or guineo, while an aunt will prepare the masa, grandma could be seasoning the meat to perfection, and a cousin can literally wrap the whole process up nicely.”[4] In Puerto Rico, the Christmas celebrations extend from Thanksgiving to January 6, Three Kings Day[5], so when a family gathers together to make this dish, they sometimes prepare hundreds of pasteles to last through the holiday season. The family recipe for pasteles is passed from mother to daughter in a tradition that has lasted hundreds of years.  Pasteles were an important part of Puerto Rican culture hundreds of years ago and continue to contribute to Puerto Rican tradition today.




[1] Irizary, Doris. “Pasteles a Traditional Latin American Dish” The Examiner. 19 Dec 2011.  Web. 09 Nov 2014.

[2] Poole, Robert. "What Became of the Taíno?" Smithsonian. N.p., Oct. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

[3] Festival Nacional Del Pastel. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. <>.

[4] Roberto Borrero, “Pasteles are Taíno,” La Diva Latina. 2008. Web. 09 Nov 2014.

[5] Ramirez, Deborah. "Holidays Tied to Pasteles." Sun Sentinel. 9 Dec. 2010. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.


Delaney Coveno (small sweet peppers), Magdalena Christoforou (oregano), Dominic Fogarosi (yautia), Nick Geiser (calabaza), Patrick Jennings (achiote), Marcelle Meyer (pork), Chiara Moslow (banana),