Honduran People and Culture

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Time to meet the Hondurans!  In this page you'll learn about our food, languages, customs, celebrations, and our rich ethnic diversity.   Let's get started with perhaps the most important topic...

Food

For some unknown reason, the first questions asked about Honduras are about food: "What's the food like?" or "Is it very hot and spicy?".  If you have not been to Honduras, the easiest way of describing our food is to say that it is a regional variation of what is known around the world as "Mexican food".  The fact is, that due to the common cultural heritage of all countries that used to be part of the Mesoamerican cultural area during Pre-Columbian times, food from Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America is not very different.  

For flavour, the Honduran chef will rely heavily on spices such as cumin, curry, allspice, and achiote; fresh herbs such as coriander and oregano; and lime juice to give food a very rich flavour.  As far as "hotness", Honduran food usually is not as hot as many would imagine, using Mexican food as a reference.

Honduran food does usually contain meat.  Beef is preferred, but chicken and pork are also very popular.  The predominant and traditional method for cooking meats is to marinate and then grill them over a charcoal barbeque.  Delicious seafood recipies are traditionally served in the coastal areas.  Lamb, which is popular in many middle-eastern recipies, is virtually non-existant in the traditional Honduran cookbook.

Corn Everywhere

As in other countries in the area, Honduran food relies heavily on the use of corn (maize) as a basic ingredient.  Nearly all traditional recipies contain corn or foods made from corn.  The starting ingredient for all these is "masa" (literally "dough" or "mass") which is dough made by mixing water with dry corn flour made by grinding corn that's been subjected a nixtamalization process.  Nixtamalization changes the corn kernel at the chemical level, makes the corn easy to digest, and increases its nutritional value.  

The most common (and perhaps the simplest) example of food made from corn in Latinamerica is the humble corn tortilla.

The Corn Tortilla

Corn tortillas are made by mixing dry corn flour with tepid water to make "masa", rolling the "masa" into small balls (about the size of a golfball) and then flattening them into discs approximately 6-inches across and 2 to 3mm thick (the thickness and diameter vary slightly from region to region of the country).  To cook, the discs are placed on a hot and slightly concave round metal plate (called "comal").  The tortillas are turned over at least once to ensure they're cooked through.

Once cooked, the tortillas will be stacked and served wrapped in a cloth to keep the warm during the meal (there's nothing as sad and useless as cold tortilla!).  Traditionally, Hondurans will eat tortillas with every meal and many regard a table setting without a tall stack of tortillas as unfinished work.

For a recipe for corn tortillas, visit our page on Honduran recipies.

Cornt tortillas on a comal

Tortillas heating up on a comal

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

Stack of corn tortillas

A good stack of corn tortillas

 

Corn is eaten in many other forms: the picture below is of some "fritas" (literally, "fried things").  A batter is prepared from coarsely ground corn mixed with milk and sugar.  A laddlefull of this batter is then cooked until golden brown in a deep comal, with with bit of oil.

Corn "fritas" on a comal

Fritas friyng on a comal, on a wood-fired stove at a roadside snack-shop.

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

Refried beans

Along with corn, kidney beans are one of the pillars that sustain Honduran cuisine. The favourite presentation is "frijoles refritos" ("refried beans").  The term "refried" is probably a mistranslation of the Mexican slang adjetive meaning "over-fried", which actually describes the key part of the cooking process.   Whole kidney beans that have already been cooked are mashed to form a lumpy broth which is reduced over a stove until thickened to the consistency of oatmeal.  A generous amount of oil (or other type of fat) is added to the paste and heat is increased to start frying it, thickening the paste even further, until it is caramelized.  Depending on personal preference, the bean paste can be fried even further, to change its flavour to slightly toasty, making it look darker, and thicken it more (hence, "over-fried"). The final effect is a very rich, flavoursome paste that can be spread over bread, tortillas (of course!), can be used to fill some types of tamales, and combines extremely well with cheese, sour cream, and other dairy products.

A common presentation for refried beans is to serve then in a starter dish called "anafre", were the beans are teamed up with tortilla chips and (optionally) melted cheese and diced chorizo.  This is usually served in a small clay pot.

For our own recipe for refried beans, visit our page on Honduran recipies.

Refried beans in an anafre

Refried beans served in a traditional clay bowl,

with fried corn tortilla wedges and melted cheese.

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

Fried plantain slices

Given that Honduras is right in the middle of the tropics, it should be no surprise that plantains make appearances in several places in the national menu.   A simple but popular presentation is to cut a ripe and sweet plantain into slices (about 3 - 5mm thick) and then shallow fry them in hot oil.  Frying makes the plantain sweeter and softens it.   They must be served while they're still warm.  They form a great partnership with cheese or refried beans, but they're dynamite with sour cream - the acidity of the cream constrasts the sweetness of the caramelized plantain.

For a recipe for fried plantain slices, visit our page on Honduran recipies.

A typical Honduran breakfast

A nice example of the classic Honduran breakfast.
Egg (to order), chorizo, refried beans, cheese,
avocado (optional), sour cream, and fried plantain slices.

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

The National Dish

Now that you know a bit about tortillas, refried beans, and plantain slices, you are ready to be introduced to the Honduran national dish - "Plato típico" (literally, "typical dish").   Every restaurant serving local food will have "Plato típico" in their menu.   It usually a large and filling serving, assembled from the following componenents:

  • Beef, marinated, diced, and barbecued on a skewer
  • Pork sausage (similar in taste and appearance to Spanish chorizo)
  • Pork crackling
  • Refried red kidney beans
  • Fried plantain slices
  • Rice
  • Salad
  • Sour cream
  • White cheese (similar to Greek Feta cheese)

The Honduran typical dish (plato típico)

Plato típico with extra plantain fritters at a restaurant in Gracias.

Photographed (and then eaten) by José Kevo.

The Plato Típico is served with chimol (a dressing for meats, made from fresh, coriander, lime juice, and other vegetables) and a tomato-based salsa as dressings... and the mandatory stack of tortillas, of course.

For a recipe for chimol, visit our page on Honduran recipies.

Tamales

You've probably already heard of tamales.  They are one of the most authentic and well-known Latinamerican dishes.  With some variations on the basic recipe, size, and name they are served daily from México to Brasil.  The basic tamal is a brick-shaped lump of spiced corn masa, with a filling made of several foodstuffs, including meat (either beef, pork or chicken), potatoes, olives, capers, raisings, rice, chickpeas, and many others.  Once shaped, the tamal is wrapped in several layers of fresh banana leaves and tied-up with thin strips cut also from banana leaves.  Then, it is cooked in a pot of boiling water.  The banana leaf wrapping forms a water-tight seal that cooks the tamal without letting any water in (or any of the aromas and flavours out).  Before serving, the banana leaf wrapping is untied and removed (some of it can be left for presentation).  A slice or two of lime and hot sauce are usually served with the tamal.

Tamal

One tamal unwrapped and ready to eat!

Honduran Recipies

Starting to get hungry? Want to try your hand at Honduran cooking? Good - we've got a few recipies for you!  To learn how to prepare some of the most popular Honduran dishes, visit our Honduran recipies page.

 

Celebrations

Christmas and New Year

Christmas is perhaps the biggest celebration of the year for Hondurans.  It is filled with religious meaning, as the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ is at heart of it.  Christmas is celebrated at the stroke of midnight on the night of the 24th of December (as opposed to the 25th in other countries).

For Hondurans, Christmas is a very special and emotional occasion and is important to spend it with the family.  Just before midnight, the family will gather and pray together, which may include the reading of passages of the Bible that narrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Once the prayer is finished, the family members engage in a round of hearty hugs and wish each other "¡Feliz Navidad!".  The Christmas meal is usually served after this.

The Christmas meal itself is extremely important.  Usually, it takes several days to prepare and several days to recover from it.  The typical menu is a combination of the traditional Latinamerican menu plus items borrowed from the North American Christmas menu:

  • Tamales
  • Torrejas
  • Sweet potato puree
  • Eggnog
  • Roasted pork ham
  • Roasted turkey (or chicken)
  • Stuffing
  • Cranberry sauce

As late as the first quarter of the 20th century, Latinamericans traditionally exchanged gifts on the 6th of January, the date traditionally associated with the Three Magi visiting the newborn Christ and delivering gifts.   Santa Claus and Christmas Trees were not heard of in those days.  Inevitably, the influence of North-American and European cultures has filtered into the Honduran traditions, and now Christmas trees and exchanging of gifts are considered to be absolutely essential elements of Christmas.  Although it has nothing to do with Latinamerican tradition, Santa Claus is ubiquitous during the season and most Honduran children learn to believe in him from an early age, just like children in many other countries.

Pyrotechnics

Pyrotechnics on sale

Several weeks before Christmas Eve, the streets of the cities become populated with vendors of firecrackers and other pyrotechnical articles.  Hondurans, especially children, will spend considerable amounts on money purchasing pyrotecnics.  The amount of pyrotechnics set off (and the noise level) grows exponentially thought the Christmas season, reaching a a spectacular climax at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.  Sadly, this tradition is now endangered:  the Honduran government has recently passed laws prohibiting the sale of pyrotechnic devices

The "Guest of Honor" gets blown up!

Año viejo in Tegucigalpa

In Tegucigalpa, an Año Viejo made to look like
a famous Latinamerican political figure
sits waiting to be set alight on New year's Eve

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

No, not really.  A few days before 31st of December, the children and teenagers in the neighborhoods in the cities will fashion a life-size doll or mannequin of an old man, representing the year that is about to end:  the "Año Viejo". The doll is fashioned from whatever materials the children can gather and dressed with old clothes collected from the neighbors and stuffed with as many pyrotechnical devices as possible.  There are no guidelines, so each Año Viejo reflects the creativity of each "neighborhood team". Sometimes they are made to look like politicians or other famous (or rather infamous) public figures.  

At the stroke of midnight of 31st of December, the Año Viejo is set alight, with all the pyrotechnics setting off in a loud and bright display that the neighbors gather around to see.  This is echoed to spectacular effect throught the cities and towns, as each neighborhood will have its own Año Viejo.

The Año Viejo is meant symbolise of all the bad and forgettable events of the outgoing year.  So, in a way, burning the Año Viejo is a symbolic "burning away" of bad memories.  Also, it is simply great fun to watch!

Honduran children with Año Viejo

On the eve of December 31st, young Hondurans Sara, René, Dennis, and Diego proudly pose
with the 'Año Viejo' they have crafted from old clothes, a plastic football, and a used mop.

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

Easter

Easter celebrations center around Semana Santa (literally, "Holy Week").  During this week, Christians commemorate the events of the last days in the life of Jesus Christ, as narrated in the Bible. It begins on Sunday of Palms. It is a period of reflection and good behaviour for all Christians.

With Catholicism being the dominant religion, Easter is an important time of the year for Hondurans and it is celebrated accordingly, with religious parades, special masses, and other traditional events hailing from Colonial times.

On the evening of Good Friday, people attend a special mass to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. Since the Catholic tradition indicates that he resurrected three days later, a meal is arranged to commemorate celebrate this on the evening of the Easter Sunday.

Most of the year, the figures depicting Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and other saints are kept safely inside the Catholic churches.  But on Good Friday, they are dressed in elaborate and elegant costumes, brought out of their church or cathedral, and paraded on floats around the city or town.  The floats are solemnly and slowy carried through the streets by volunteers, while band plays a funerary piece.  The parade symbolizes Christ's funeral.

Christ on Good Friday celebrations Image of Virgin Mary, dressed up for Good Friday

Figures of Christ and The Virgin Mary, Tegucigalpa, Easter 2013

Photos by Gina Villatoro

Traditionally, the streets on the parade's route are covered with decorative "carpets" made from a thin pre- painted sawdust.  The sawdust is painstakingly laid-out to create intricate patterns or images depicting religious scenes and characters from Catholic tradition.  These "carpets" are true works of art, made entirely by volunteers and every year there is an undeclared competition between neighbouring cities, to see which can make the most elaborate and beautiful "carpets" for their Good Friday parade.  Unfortunatley, the carpets do not last long: any gust of wind or rain will ruin them, and the parade itself destroys them.

Preparing street carpets for Easter Preparing street carpets for Easter

Volunteers prepare street carpets for Easter celebrations, Tegucigalpa, Easter 2013

Photos by Gina Villatoro

 

 

Semana Santa in Tegucigalpa Semana Santa in Tegucigalpa

Completed street carpets for Easter celebrations, Tegucigalpa, Easter 2013

Photos by Gina Villatoro

Birthdays, piñatas, and cake

In most of Latinamerica, it is customary to celebrate a child's birthday with a gathering of friends, a meal and a "piñata" - a hollow figure made of papier-maché in different colours, filled with various types of candy, chocolates, and small toys.  Traditionally, piñatas would be shaped like a star, but today they can be made to order to resemble anything you can imagine, with characters from the latest cartoons and animated films being the most popular.

Piñatas for sale in a supermarket in Tegucigalpa

Piñatas on display in a supermarket in Tegucigalpa.

Photo by ThisIsHonduras

The piñata is strung up from a tree branch or post so that it can swing about and children attending the party take turns to strike the piñata with a wooden stick.  Usually the child at turn is blindfolded and the piñata is made to swing back and forth at random, whilst the rest of attendees help by shouting "Up!", "Down!", "Left!", "Right!", "Cold!", "Warm!", etc.  This continues until the piñata has suffered enough damage to allow the contents to pour out for all the children to rush in and collect them.

For some strange reason, at most birthday parties you will hear the song "Happy Birthday" in English (and sometimes also in Spanish).  This is followed immediately by the traditional blowing of the candles on a cake that will be shared by the guests.

Languages

Spanish is the official language of Honduras and is spoken by all Hondurans.  Like other countries in Central America, we have our own accent and slang.  Spanish people visiting Hondurans have often commented that the Honduran accest is very similar to that used in Spain's Canary Islands.

English is spoken by many people of Afro-Caribbean ascent on the islands off the northern coast of Honduras (the Bay Islands).  On the mainland, relatively few people are bililngual, with English being the most common second language, for those who have access to bi-lingual education.

When you travel in Honduras, be aware that it will very useful for you to speak and understand at least enough Spanish to be able to ask for and get directions.  This will be specially true away from the cities, were most people will only speak Spanish.

Several native tongues are still spoken by the native groups living (mostly) in rural areas.  For example, the Tolupán speak the "Tol" language and the Garífuna use language that is a unique mixture of at least five others, including some East-African languges.  To find out more about this, visit our page on ethnic groups in Honduras.

Religion

Tegucigalpa's Cathedral

Most Hondurans are members of the Roman Catholic Church.  Traditionally Catholicism has been the strongest religion in the country but, recently Evangelism has become popular and is gaining strength, specially amongst the younger Hondurans.

You'll find that many customs and traditions in Honduras have a link to Catholic faith.

Ethnic Groups

Honduras is blessed with a population of great ethnic diversity. The predominant ethnic group in Honduras are the "mestizo" - people of mixed native and European (mostly Spanish) ascent.  Mestizos account for over 93% of the population of Honduras.  There are several other minority ethnic groups.  Amongst them are people who descend from native tribes that were in our territory before the Spanish arrived:  Lencas, Chortís, Tolupanes, Pech, Tawahkas, and Miskitos.  There is also another important group, called the Garífunas, who descend from African slaves from the Caribbean islands and are a relatively recent addition to the Honduran family.  And there are many people of Afro-Caribbean ascent living in The Bay Islands.

To read about the history and traditions of each ethnic group in Honduras, please visit our page about Honduran ethnic groups.

Honduran photo album

The following mini-gallery will give you an idea of what Hondurans from the various ethnic groups look like.  Click on the pictures below to see more and larger images and read more about each ethnic group in Honduras.

Mestizo children
Mestizo

Lenca farmer
Lenca
Tolupán
(No photo available yet)
Chortí woman
Chortí
Garífuna drummer
Garífuna
Miskito girl
Miskito
Pech family
Pech
Tawahka
Tawahka

Demographics

The population of Honduras has grown steadily during the XX century.  This growth has accelerated during the last 4 decades thanks to the success of government programs aimed at reducing infant mortality and increasing overall life expectancy.  According to government figures, in 2011 Hondurans numbered 8.2 million and with the current growth rates (2.1% per year), it is proyected that the population will reach 10 million by 2020.

Honduras-population-1880-2011

Chart by ThisIsHonduras, based on data from Banco Central de Honduras

The latest population census has shown that, for the first time in Honduran history, more Hondurans now live in cities than in rural areas.  This is a reflection of the working conditions outside urban areas are much less than ideal, which should be of concern to governments of a country that does not yet have a strong industrial sector.

Honduras is a young country, with just over 50% of the population under 19 years old (only 3% of the population is 65 or over).  The population is split approximately evenly between men and women.