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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Hot chocolate made the Peruvian way

    Esmeralda Bustamante grates a bar of 100% cocoa Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, as she makes traditional Peruvian hot chocolate at her home in Waterford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Waterford — Esmeralda Bustamante left Peru over 20 years ago, but Peru hasn't left her.

    She carries with her the traditions, recipes and memories she grew up with, all of which she has tried to intertwine into the lives of her four children.

    "Yo estoy orgullosa de ser de Peru," Bustamante said. "I'm proud to be from Peru."

    Bustamante invited The Day into her home to talk Peruvian Christmas traditions and taste her personal holiday favorite: hot chocolate made of 100% cocoa with panettone.

    Panettone is a fruit or chocolate chip cake of Italian origin that became popular in South America through Italian immigration between 1880 and the early 1900s. Bustamante said the sweet cake is often accompanied with hot chocolate, which she makes with organic bars of cocoa she brings home from Peru in large quantities every time she goes to visit.

    "I make hot chocolate all December long," she said. "I love it."

    Bustamante makes the hot chocolate by warming milk on the stove with strands of cinnamon sticks and cloves. Once it reaches a boil, the spices are removed and she adds grated pieces of cocoa, stirring until it is richly dispersed and brown. Finally, she adds sugar to reach the desired level of sweetness. While it's not required, she adds a piece of butter for extra creaminess.

    In Peru, the weather is a lot warmer during the winter months than here, but even there Bustamante said the people still drink their hot chocolate.

    She said the hot chocolate and panettone is traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve, when most of the festivities take place, and before dinner. Peruvians wait to eat their Christmas dinner till after the clock strikes midnight and the family members have hugged one another, raised a toast for their blessings and opened presents.

    Another common Christmas tradition that is typically followed at midnight: the youngest member of the family places a baby Jesus in the home's nativity set or reveals the baby that has been covered in anticipation of the festivities. Bustamante said her family decided to skip that tradition this year because her one and only granddaughter is too young to do it quite yet.

    The nativity set in Bustamante's home is the centerpiece of the living room, taking up more space than the Christmas tree. Green, sparkly craft paper and string lights are plastered on a side table and boxes, forming the shape of a mountain. The nativity set is like any other except the statues of Mary, Joseph and others — even the angels — look like the highland people from the mountainous regions in Peru, and wear traditional garments.

    Bustamante said the set is from Peru and she remembers having it for as long as she has lived in the U.S.

    "I liked this one when I saw it and have always liked it," she said.

    Creating new traditions

    Bustamante and her husband, Luis Arias, have three daughters — Pamela, Diana and Adriana — and one son, Sebastian.

    Arias has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years, but he said he still remembers Christmas in Peru. He said he would go out into the streets to shoot fireworks at midnight with his friends.

    "In Peru, everything is a party," he said.

    Christmas in the family's Quaker Hill home is a lot more intimate, but Arias said they still have a good time listening to villancicos, or Peruvian Christmas carols, all day leading up to midnight and dancing the night away.

    As part of their tradition, Bustamante said, members of the whole family are expected to give one another a gift, even Adriana and Sebastian, the younger ones. She planned to give them some money to buy gifts for their older sisters.

    "It's not about buying expensive gifts," she said. "It's about teaching my kids to value the act of giving rather than the gifts."

    j.vazquez@theday.com

    Esmeralda Bustamante's traditional Peruvian hot chocolate is served Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, with panettone, an Italian sweet cake, at her home in Waterford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Esmeralda Bustamante cuts a slice of panettone to serve with her traditional Peruvian hot chocolate Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, as her son Sebastian, 13, looks on at their home in Waterford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Some of Esmeralda Bustamante's holiday decorations on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, in her home in Waterford. She brought them with her from Peru. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Esmeralda Bustamante ladles her traditional Peruvian hot chocolate into a holiday mug Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at her home in Waterford. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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