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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

How to have a Puerto Rican-style holiday feast in Florida

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A morning show host for Jacksonville reggaeton radio station Flow 105.3 shows us how to celebrate.

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Florida is home to more Puerto Ricans than any other state. This week, we’re exploring how many of Florida’s Puerto Rican communities celebrate the winter holidays. Our guide is Yanira “Yaya” Cardona, morning show host the Jacksonville reggaeton radio station Flow 105.3 and owner of Yaya Productions, a company that produces and markets events for Jacksonville’s Hispanic community.

Yaya is a Navy brat who grew up all over the world, spending her toddler and teen years in Puerto Rico. She says a typical Puerto Rican holiday plate contains lechón asado (roast pork), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), ensalada de papa (potato salad), pasteles (tamales stuffed with meat and boiled) and tostones amarillos (fried yellow plantains). Desserts include flan, rice pudding, coconut cheesecake, guava cookies and other tropical favorites. And to wash it all down, there’s plenty of coquito—a creamy, coconut-flavored beverage that’s Puerto Rico’s answer to eggnog.

The centerpiece of the Christmas Eve meal is the roast pork, which can take days to prepare. Yaya’s extended family gathers at her great-uncle’s house, where the men season the pig and tend to it on the spit, passing the time by playing dominoes, telling stories, drinking and dancing.

“Once the pig is completely done, typically the oldest member in the family is the one that starts to chop it up,” Yaya says.

Another fun custom is las parrandas, a tradition that combines Christmas caroling with street parties. Around midnight, a group of people show up at a family’s house singing holiday songs while playing instruments or banging pots and pans.

“We wake you up,” Yaya says. “The people know at Christmastime to be ready to receive a parranda at any time. You’re not warned when we’re gonna come through. We don’t let you know how many people are gonna come. So you just have to be prepared at all times during Christmas to have alcohol in your house and/or food for a group of people, or to be woken up at whatever time.”

Instead of getting upset, the neighbors often join in as the group heads to another house, and then another.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Yaya says.

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