One amazing aspect of living in Chocó is witnessing the community and work ethic among the church ladies. The hermanas are organized, both within each church and regionally, and they frequently hold church events and head up projects for the community. Funding these events is more than a matter of simply adding “Women’s Ministry” as a church’s budget line item; it is a matter of working together and finding creative ways to gain resources. They make lunches to sell after church services, arriving in the church’s basement kitchen at dawn to chop enormous quantities of vegetables and hand squeeze gallons of orange juice. They sell mazamorra, a corn-based drink, in small plastic cups. They also make one of my favorite Chocoano foods: pasteles, which are kind of like tamales but with a rice base instead of corn.

Back in October – which shows how much I’ve procrastinated in terms of blog writing – I had the privilege of helping make pasteles for a fundraiser for some good cause, though I forget which. The process from beginning to end took about eight hours, and approximately seven women were involved at some point or another in the work.

First things first: meet Yineth (pronounced like “Jeannette”). She’s the woman on the right in the bright yellow dress. She is a powerhouse of a worker and the former president of the regional ladies’ ministry. Wherever and whenever there is an event, she is there before, during, and after – preparing and planning, encouraging, accomplishing amazing things like cooking for 300 people over a fire by the side of the river, and cleaning up afterwards. She is one of those people who spills over with positive energy and makes you feel lighter and better upon greeting. She also runs a bakery, which is where we made the pasteles.


Juana on the left and Yineth on the right at the regional women’s convention held in December in Condoto

Here are the steps for making pasteles, as extracted from my experience that day:

Step 1: Be ordered to go buy the ingredients. Protest because, well, you don’t know what the ingredients are, and secondly because you know you will buy, heaven forbid, the wrong brand of spice packet or something.

Step 2: Go around with the expert and buy the correct ingredients. Forever be recognized and treated better by various vendors for having been seen shopping with Yineth.

Step 3: Back at the bakery, prep and clean the veggies.

IMG_2647  IMG_2648Step 4: Chop the veggies into tiny pieces. I’ve learned that there are specific ways that they must be chopped, and have had my chopped-up carrots or onions rejected and/or laughed at for being apparently ridiculously chopped over the past year here.

IMG_2652Step 5: Cook the veggies with a variety of spices over the fire.

IMG_2655Step 6: Remove from heat once soft and replace with chicken and pork that has been marinated. Also get started on boiling an enormous pot of water.

IMG_2663Step 7: Mix uncooked rice with the cooked veggies.


Arroz crudo


Only do this while talking on the phone if you are an expert.

Step 8: Prepare the guavina (similar to banana) leaves by wiping each one with a damp cloth. Then tear each into two pieces, one larger than the other, by folding, twirling the stem several times, and pulling apart with oomph.

IMG_2687 IMG_2692 IMG_2703IMG_2710Step 9: It’s now time to assemble the pasteles. Place the larger part of the leaf on the bottom, the smaller part of the leaf on top of that, and layer with a scoop of the rice and veggie mixture, a piece of cooked chicken, and top with another scoop of rice mixture.

IMG_2719IMG_2720 IMG_2721 Step 10: Tuck all that goodness into the leaf, folding securely.

IMG_2723 IMG_2725Step 11: Tightly tie the packet with twine.

IMG_2728 IMG_2731 IMG_2733Step 12: Once all the packets have been assembled, boil in the large pot of water for several hours until the rice is cooked through.

IMG_2746Step 13: Eat and enjoy. You may now die happy. (I neglected to take a picture of our finished pasteles due to our haste in devouring them.)

Accompanying the women of the church in their often labor-intensive efforts has been an education for me. Going down to the basement during a church service to help dice vegetables or make juice and talking with the women often ministers to my soul in a way that the sermon tends not to. The food is important, but so is the process: these are dishes meant to be created and eaten with love, time, laughter, and many hands.


One thought on “Pasteles

  1. Jane Eanes says:

    Amy, what a lovely photo essay of this unique process of making pasteles! That is something I didn’t see while there, but the manner of microscopically dicing those veggies and sauteeing over a fire DID look familiar, reminding me of an evening spent with some of those women in the church basement kitchen:) However, the fire under the vegetables in your photos looks positively ferocious, doesn’t it? Do they usually work over such big fires?
    I have to say – your last paragraph says it all in such a poetic way, and really captures the lovely essence of the gifts these women bring to the church.
    Thanks for this window into Choco!

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