“San Guivin” and #ChefsForPuertoRico

A few years ago I wrote this post, recounting memories of Thanksgiving (or “San Guivin”) in Puerto Rico. This holiday marks the commencement of the long Christmas celebration, quickly transitioning from Thanksgiving’s pavochón to the actual lechón (pork), accompanied with arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and pasteles.

26 old pavo

From a past Thanksgiving meal, featuring pavochón, arroz con gandules and mofongo stuffing. 

This year, the holidays will find Puerto Rico in post-Maria reconstruction. In light of this occasion, I wanted to use this post to highlight the ongoing work of Jose Andres, World Central Kitchen and the many local chefs and volunteers assisting with this effort:

World Central Kitchen, Andrés, and their coterie of chefs and volunteers plan to serve an estimated 40,000 Thanksgiving meals this week. They plan to serve “families throughout the island including San Juan, Vieques, Naguabo, Adjuntas, Ponce, Dorado, Utuado, Aguadilla and Manatí” as well as volunteers. – From Eater.com

Photo: @chefjoseandres / Twitter (in Eater.com article)

Chef Jose Andres has provided a spotlight on the chronic food crisis in Puerto Rico. His efforts have been supported by many local Puerto Rican chefs, including: José Enrique, Enrique Piñeiro, Victor Rosado, Wilo Bennett, José Santaella, and Manolo Martinez, as well as the food truck network – Ocean Deli, High Kitchen, Lemon Submarine, Pisco Labis, El Churry, Yummy Dumplings, Peko Peko, Acai on the Go, and The Meatball Company (see here).

The work of World Central Kitchen and these chefs underscore the important role of members of the culinary sector in assisting communities in times of need. I will continue to follow their efforts and contribute to their ongoing work. If you want to join me, follow this link for more information.

Advertisements

Maria

My last post was a celebration of one dish that always reminds me of home, the arroz con salchichas – what I called “el arroz del resuelve.” I described the dish as “nostalgic”, a dish that I enjoy on special occasions, by choice, from my table away from home. My choice contrasts with the more usual occasions the dish is consumed – that is, during times of need and limited possibilities, such as right after a natural disaster. A few weeks after I wrote my post, Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, followed, a week later, by the historical devastation brought by Hurricane Maria. Today, almost two months after, most of Puerto Rico remains without electricity and water, in what has turned out to be a humanitarian crisis with repercussions for years to come.

In an interview published by the Association for the Study of Food in Society, Puerto Rican Historian Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra provided an insightful historical and contemporary assessment of the ongoing crisis,

Food crises have been with Puerto Ricans through history. During the Spanish conquest, when the majority of Taino Indians were forced to work in las vetas auriferas [gold mines], reducing cassava cultivation for a long period, those who could escape to the mountains probably resorted to eating marunguey (Zamia pumila, Zamia debilisi), a poisonous tuber that the Taino had learned to use by making a bread from its roots. Older rural people followed a tradition where, once the bread was ready, it was put out in the open until it began to ferment and bugs started to eat it. Informants say the bread is then ready to eat, as the poisons have been extracted by the insects. [After hurricane Maria] it has been reported that people are using what remains on the ground–plantains, bananas, breadfruit, and other fruits as their sole daily food–eating them raw, because water, often used to boil them, is scarce. – See complete interview here

Since the hurricane, long lines have become an everyday activity. People have stood in lines for hours to enter  supermarkets, often requiring lines beforehand to get gasoline and cash. At the end of the line, people have encountered empty supermarkets, and many foods were rationed. What are people eating in these times of crisis? Ortiz Cuadra provides some insight “from the ground”,

In the long lines I have been in, while waiting for a bag of ice (only 45% of the running water system is in place and practically no electricity), I have asked this question and various women have answered “mac and cheese” with Spam (we call it jamonilla) and also with Vienna sausages.

These processed foods – the salchichas (Vienna sausages) and jamonilla (Spam) – have been provided by FEMA, as part of the controversial food aid in the island,

JoshSanchez FEMA tweet

Oct. 12, 2017 viral tweet by sports journalist Josh Sanchez. 

FEMA’s aid has been controversial in its inclusion of skittles, and other “junk foods.” The local newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported FEMA boxes including inapt products, such as packets of ketchup, cooking wine and meat thermometers. As such, Hurricane Maria has grabbed the news attention not only for the size of its devastation, but for the severe mismanagement of the recovery efforts, including the appalling (yet not surprising) mediocre response from the sitting president. Still today, the number of deaths remains unknown and rising, with hundreds still unaccounted for and the deaths continuing to accumulate as a result of the slow recovery efforts. The situation is compounded by the ongoing exodus. Two weeks after the hurricane, 20,000 Puerto Ricans were already on their way to Florida. Others are choosing New York and other various destinations across the States where families and friends continue to receive loved ones on a daily, often rotating basis. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies provide sobering estimations of the post-Maria exodus,

Between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Rico residents will leave the island annually in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. From 2017 to 2019, we estimate that Puerto Rico may lose up to 470,335 residents or 14% of the population. In other words, Puerto Rico will lose the same population in a span of a couple of years after Hurricane Maria as the island lost during a prior decade of economic stagnation. – See Research Brief by Melendez & Hinojosa (Oct 2017) here.

The outflow will have political and economic consequences not only for the island, but also in the United States, particularly  in Florida.

Despite the continuing crisis in the island and the consequences in the States, the news cycle has since moved on from Puerto Rico. Thankfully, many continue to work to address this chronic crisis. Of note is the work of George Washington University Public Health Nutrition Professor Uriyoan Colon-Ramos who is working to  document food aid in Puerto Rico, and develop needed nutrition guidelines in these trying times, in collaboration with people on the ground. I am also following the work of Casa Pueblo, a local organization working hard to address the electricity crisis, with the potential of bringing solar power as a sustainable solution. Community kitchens have also opened up providing needed food, including and beyond the (now concluded) amazing effort led by Chef Jose Andres in collaboration with local Puerto Rican chefs.

Still, the recovery continues to be painfully slow and quite difficult to follow from a distance. If this post inspires you to help or get involved, check out this recent Take Action article by Ariana Rosas Cardenas on The Nation, along with many others articles providing a variety of ways to help (see here and here, among others).

 

Arroz del Resuelve

Lately, I have been thinking about “nostalgic foods”, a termed coined by Viladrich to signify the “traditional staples and recipes that are transmitted, prepared, and consumed by immigrants and their families in the host country”*. For me, one such meal is arroz con salchichas (rice with sausage). It is a dish most of us ate as children in Puerto Rico, which turned into part of what Ortiz Cuadra calls the “paladar memoria” (the palate’s memories), an “intimate bond with food and diet molded by material circumstances, a mother’s cooking, the frequent repeating of various dishes and meals, and the ‘principles of taste’”**

As I write this, I stand right by the kitchen. I am waiting for lunch to be cooked. Today I prepared what I decided to call el arroz del resuelve – a hastily put together version of my nostalgic arroz con salchichas. I had the Vienna sausages in the pantry for some weeks now (maybe a few months?). I bought them on my last visit to East Harlem (El Barrio). Whenever I am in the area, I try to stop at one of the local supermarkets to stock on Puerto Rican favorites not easily found in my neighborhood. The salchichas, much like the corned beef I also bought in that last trip, have been in my pantry waiting for a moment like today.

Two days ago we returned from the last trip of the summer – a two week stint. We returned home to an empty kitchen, and a to-do list that constantly grew during our time away, preventing us for getting proper groceries at one of the nearby stores. When faced with the midday meal, I scavenged the pantry and refrigerator with the the following results:

IMG_20170826_132340682_HDR

The original arroz con salchicha must have been an arroz del resuelve, a mixed of processed and fresh foods thrown together when faced with hunger and a lack of fresh meat. The salchichas arrived to Puerto Rico as part of the growth of the food industry after the Second World War. As explained by Ortiz Cuadra in the Glossary of Eating Puerto Rico , the salchichas “have nothing in common with European sausages. Rather, they are a processed, canned food, composed of meat by-products (from cows, swine, poultry, or even some combination of these)”. Today, I am eating the combined kind…

IMG_20170826_131327260

My take on the recipe substituted the medium grain white rice with large grain brown rice. Years ago we stopped buying canned tomato sauce, favoring fresh tomatoes for our Puerto Rican dishes. Unfortunately today, we had to make due with spaghetti sauce. Thankfully, we always have sofrito in stock (thanks to Norma D., my mother in law), and had onions and preserved, chopped fresh garlic to complement (a tip learned from my mother). And, to add the touch of color, a pizca of sazón

IMG_20170826_131849238

The arroz del resuelve is now done, an hour after I combined the found ingredients in the non-traditional pot…

IMG_20170826_143335811

I added a sparkle of color with green peas as a finishing touch, along with a hint of pique de acerola – a hot sauce made from West Indian cherry, another of my nostalgic foods. Despite the changes in flavor from the brown rice and the green peas, the salchichas still provided a bite from the Caribbean home I am able to enjoy miles up north.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources:
* Viladrich, A. and B. Tagliaferro (2016). “Picking fruit from our backyard’s trees: The meaning of nostalgia in shaping Latinas’ eating practices in the United States.” Appetite 97: 101-110.
** Ortiz Cuadra, C. M. (2013). Eating Puerto Rico: a history of food, culture and identity. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press

On Cuba’s ration book (from Repeating Islands)

Like many things in Cuba, food is a complicated subject. Variety is lacking, yet Cubans have an assured minimum food supply through the “libreta” – the Cuban ration book. The libreta was implemented after the 1959 Cuban Revolution as a way to equalize all citizens through food. In the beginning, the libreta covered most necessities. With time, items have been gradually eliminated from the libreta. Today, the libreta is used for bare necessities, prompting Cubans to supplement through the regular market. Moreover, there are ongoing conversations regarding phasing out the libreta, and replacing it with a more targeted safety net program. While the subject is not yet settled – changes will come sooner or later. This post from Repeating Islands provide an updated take on current debates on the faith of the libreta.

Repeating Islands

631081_img650x420_img650x420_crop.jpg

A report by Hector Velasco for the Agence France Presse.

From one end of the island to the other, every Cuban can be sure of one thing: Their ration book, or “libreta,” will put at least the basics on their table at dinner time. When President Raul Castro tried several years back to do away with this enduring symbol of both equality and scarcity, he failed.

Next February, Castro, younger brother of the late revolutionary leader Fidel, will step down, and there is little sign that the ration book will go anywhere before he does.

Behind his failed effort was the major challenge facing whoever takes over running the Communist island once he steps down: how to open up the economy without a return to capitalism?

Is the ration book the greatest achievement of the Cuban revolution, or its most inefficient burden? The booklet encapsulates two very different views…

View original post 568 more words

Food fads implications: The case of the Avocado

Avocados seem to be everywhere nowadays. Today, they are eaten at every meal, including breakfast (or brunch). The avocado can now serve as a bowl for your meal or a bun for your BLT. And yes, of course you could also wrap avocado in bacon!

You can do more than just eating the avocado. Its shell can be used as a cup for your latte, as first demonstrated by an Australian coffee shop, which first featured such “creation” as a joke on Instagram.

avocado latte

Melbourne’s Truman Cafe’s Avocado Latte (From: The Telegraph, “‘It’s literally coffee in a piece of rubbish’: Are Avocado lattes the latest hipster coffee trend?”)

The avocado craze has also resulted in an avocado bar (not surprisingly located in Brooklyn!) called the Avocaderia…which actually ran out of avocados on opening day. Topping the “avocado latte” and the Avocaderia, the fruit was also recently featured in the news as a weapon for idiotic, irate bodega customers in New York City! (If interested, you can see the so called “Avocado Assault” here). The list of interesting and over the top uses of avocados can go on. But let’s instead go back to the origins of the fruit, and the potential implications of this avocado trend…

Avocados are native to the Americas – particularly Central Mexico, in Puebla. Fossil evidence suggest humans have been enjoying this fruit since 10,000 BC. The avocado is actually a berry, from the  Lauracea flowering tree family.

Avocados are rich in “good fats”. These fatty fruits are also an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients, including B-vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin E and vitamin C. Because of their high fat content, they can also be satiating, and provide a delicious mouth feel to any meal. Such profile has increase the demand for avocados in recent years, much beyond the usual guac and chips at your favorite Mexican place.

aguacates-culpables-de-la-deforestacion-en-mexico

Avocado farms in the mountains of Michoacán (From: Blue Channel 24, “Rising avocado prices fuelling illegal deforestation in Mexico” (includes video)

Much like other recent food fads, such as the craze for sushi and quinoa (see end of post for more information), the increased appetite for avocado does not come without consequence. As noted in a 2016 piece by Associated Press in the New York Post, our avocado obsession translates into deforestation and other social consequences in neighboring Mexico. The high demand for avocados leads to increased production, at the expense of pine forests in Mexico. Avocado production also takes up water resources that previously benefited the flora and fauna of the area. Moreover, beyond production, avocados also take up resources for packaging and transport, including wood, further contributing to the deforestation. Aside from environmental concerns, avocado production is also linked to the drug cartel, as reported in a 2016 article in The Guardian,

It’s a moot point whether the Mexicans who actually grow these on-trend fruits eventually harvest their fair share of the economic benefits. This lucrative trade is increasingly controlled by a drug cartel known as the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar). So when you buy a Mexican avocado, a greedy share of revenue may well accrue to criminals.

The same piece further underscores how the issue is not easily resolved by avoiding Mexican avocados. Other producers, such as those in Chile, Peru and Dominican Republic, do not have better or more sustainable practices. As noted in the same article,

The fact of the matter is that we know pitifully little about the environmental and working conditions of faceless people in faraway places who grow fruit for our tables, but I have seen enough of foreign fruit “farms” to suspect the worst. Fields of abysmally low-paid, often migrant workers who toil and live day-in-day-out in a trashed environment amid polluted water courses and pesticides; the latter decaying workers’ fingernails from dipping saplings into chemicals.

Sadly, similar working conditions may also be found in California farms, as well as the environmental effect of the water-loving fruit – that is close to almonds as “top water guzzling crops“.

Living in Puerto Rico, avocados were easy to come by, grown in someone’s backyard, or bought on the side of the road from a local farmer. I did not give a second thought to where the avocado was coming from. They were also tastier (and bigger) than the imported variety I am now buying in New York City. The quick research I present here makes me value every single avocado I eat, and think twice before falling for the silly food fads that are becoming more common each day. In this globalized world, we need to think of our food choices beyond how they benefit our health and taste buds, to think about how they can affect the communities that fulfill our ever increasing demand for these special foods.

Interested in learning more? Here is some more food for thought on how other recent food trends have had unseen social and environmental consequences:

Re-linking Nutrition and Gastronomy

In his book, The Physiology of Taste, published in 1895, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin defined gastronomy as

a scientific definition of all that relates to man as a feeding animal. Its object is to watch over the preservation of man by means of the best possible food.

Nutrition, on the other hand, is defined as

the act or process of nourishing or being nourished; specifically:  the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances (from Merriam-Webster)

 

As these definitions show, both nutrition and gastronomy care about the  “preservation of men” (and women). Early cookbooks contained recipes that used food as medicine, and many other contain introductions teaching the readers about the nutritive qualities of foods and how to best combine them in daily menus. Today, in practice, the gastronomic and nutrition views of food seem to stand in parallel silos.  Broadly speaking, those in the culinary fields talk about foods in terms of aesthetics, texture and taste, while nutritionists tend to reduce food to nutrient and caloric values. Now, I add “broadly speaking”, as this statement is an over-generalization. The culinary and nutrition “silos” are starting to interact. There are more chefs who are also registered dietitians and dietitians who venture into culinary training.  Chefs are also engaging in food policy. Examples are found in the Plate of the Union campaign (an advocacy movement that views access to healthy, affordable foods and safe drinking water as a right, and the current food system as favoring “Big Ag”), celebrity chefs engaging in humanitarian projects, such as the work of Chef Jose Andres and Jamie Oliver’s crusade to improve school food (and his “food revolution”), among others.

One of my ongoing research projects seeks to uncover more linkages. In a 2016 journal article, comparing dietary guidelines in the Hispanic Caribbean, I highlighted the inclusion of the Federación de Asociaciones Culinarias de la República de Cuba (the Cuban national culinary association) in the drafting of the national dietary guidelines. Their influence is seen in the guidelines messages. For example, beyond just telling the population to consume less salt, practical culinary advice is provided to achieve this recommendation:

Flavor your food with natural condiments and aromatic herbs (cumin, oregano, onion, garlic, basil, celery, parsley, among others) and citric juices. (My translation)

Beyond just asking the consumer to eat less fat and fried foods, the guide provide some advise on how to accomplish this, while also still enjoying fried foods,

Lower the consumption of fried foods. When frying, you should cut foods in large portions, so that they absorb less fat. (My translation)

Neighboring Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic have similar culinary associations are also engaged in important food work in the country, although not readily connected with the public health nutrition sector in the country. For example, the Asociación Gastronómica Puertorriqueña (and other local chefs) are working to build and solidify farm to table links in a island with a weakened agricultural sector. The Fundación Sabores Dominicanos (highlighted in my previous post) is striving to document and highlight the regional dishes in Dominican Republic.

As these examples show, chefs have an important role to improve and preserve healthy food habits in the communities they serve. This role is increasingly important amid the continued influx of ultra-processed and other globalized foods that lead to the gradual displacement of traditional fresh foods. These global changes have an often deleterious effect for consumer’s health, local producer’s livelihood and the nation’s economy. In addition, a greater (re)connection between gastronomy and nutrition can also have the needed effect of  helping us move beyond the prevailing myth that delicious food is inherently unhealthy, and that nutritious, healthy food is synonymous with bland, and tasteless dishes.

********************
This post is part of an ongoing research project, recently presented at the OxyFood 17 Conference, “Migrating Food Cultures: Engaging Pacific Perspectives on Food and Agriculture”, as part of the talk titled “Taste, Health and Ethnic Cuisines: Comparing nutrition and culinary experts’ perceptions of Hispanic Caribbean diets”. 

A First Taste of Santo Domingo

Dominican cuisine is often summed up in a few main iconic dishes, including La Bandera (rice, beans and meat), sancocho, and mangú. As the case of neighboring Puerto Rico and Cuba, the cuisine is influenced by the historic amalgamation of culinary traditions from the indigenous Tainos, the Spanish colonizers, and the African slaves. Additionally, Dominican cuisine  has been and continues to be greatly influenced by incoming migration. For example, the Arab migration of the 19th century is seen in the Dominican version of the quipe (pictured below). Exchanges with neighboring Puerto Ricans has resulted in the incorporation of the mofongo, and the recent influx of Venezuelans is perceptible in new restaurants and menu additions, such as the cachapas.

Quipe de chivo (Source: Instagram)

Last week, I visited Santo Domingo for the very first time. Part of the purpose of the visit was to learn and sample how local restaurants are constructing Dominican cuisine in the island. Granted, eating out is still not widespread in the general population. The restaurants I visited seemed to cater mostly to tourists and to the middle/upper class segments of society. The prices were far from the cost of the platos del día (dishes of the day) found in smaller food establishments, where for a few hundred pesos (about $3) one could get a nice helping of rice, beans and meat.

One of the restaurants at the forefront of the continued development of Dominican Cuisine is Higüero. As described in the restaurant’s website (roughly translated),

Higüero, the restaurant, assumes the responsibility of becoming one of the pioneers in the purpose of making our food a product to be enjoyed by exigent gourmands, local and internationals.

In accord with this mission, the restaurant location is also the site of the Fundación Sabores Dominicanos, a local nonprofit with the mission of motivating the advancement of Dominican gastronomy. The foundation gets this work done through the documentation and dissemination of regional gastronomic trends (which has been a great resource!), as well as the annual gathering of culinary experts as part of the Foro Gastronómico. During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting the key drivers behind the Fundación and receiving a copy of the proceedings of the First Foro Gastronómico.

sabores
With Bolívar Troncoso Morales, President of the Fundación Sabores Dominicanos (far right) and Juan Febles, the president of A&B Masters, Escuela Dominicana de Alimentos y Bebidas (far left).

Higüero is not the only restaurant with the mission of developing or promoting Dominican cuisine. Take, for example, Jalao, a relatively new restaurant in the Zona Colonial, located right across the Catedral Primada de America, the oldest in the New World. The menu featured interesting dishes such as the LP, or the “long plei” – a wheat-based Johnnycake- and the “Juego de pelota linero” – goat-stuffed croquettes.

Jalao food

Buche Perico, a popular tourist spot a few steps away in the Zona Colonial, had similar traditional (re)inventions, including the mini chimis de longaniza,

chimis

I also encountered the Puerto Rican trifongo – a combination of fried and mashed plantain, yucca and, in this version, breadfruit,

The trifongo can be the topic of its own post. In short, is a new iteration of the mofongo, where the plantain is accompanied by yucca and ripe plantains (or breadfruit). Like the mofongo, the trifongo comes from Puerto Rico.  While remaining close to the Puerto Rican original, the Dominican mofongo (as experienced in the Dominican Republic) may be prepared with boiled – not fried – plantains, and served alongside sancocho broth – a nice touch not found in Puerto Rico. The version below was eaten at the popular chain, Adrian Tropical, which was recommended as serving one of the best mofongos in the island. This one, the mini mofongo combi, was served with meats on the side, instead of inside (as one would encounter in Puerto Rico),

mofongo

El Conuco, the sister restaurant of Buche Perico, is located near the Hotel Jaragua, close to El Malecón. As the last restaurant visited in this trip, we opted to share a Dominican classic: the sancocho, as our last meal before returning back home.

sancocho

This was just a short, descriptive appetizer. At the risk of transforming this blog post into an extended restaurant review, I have obviated details on how these dishes tasted, and interactions with restaurant servers. Some experiences were better than others, but they all provided insight into how contemporary Dominican cuisine is being framed today, back in the Caribbean.

In the next weeks, I will be sorting through field notes and pictures from initial take on the Dominican Republic. The trip was part of a larger effort to expand research networks and explore the current culinary and public health nutrition situation, linked with transnational connections with the Dominican community in the US.

Stay tuned for more!

Living & Eating Comida Criolla in NYC: An invited talk

This past week I had the pleasure to return to one of my alma maters, Florida International University, to share my ongoing research with Hispanic Caribbean cuisines in New York City. I was hosted by Prof. Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology at FIU. The talk, titled Living and Eating Comida Criolla in New York City, shared results from field interviews I conducted with Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the city. The talk focused on the Cuban experience in NYC, as an opportunity to gather feedback from the Cuban perspective in Miami, FL:

The talk led to a fruitful conversation with the audience. Such conversation got started with a question on the distribution of Hispanic Caribbean restaurants in New York City, an interesting issue I have partly addressed in a previous post. This motivated questions about the cuisine authenticity, in light of the emergence of high-end restaurants, where these cocinas criollas are being reinvented with a higher price tag. Members of the audience also shared memories from their own migration histories, enriching my ongoing analysis of the Cuban American experience.

 

The Joy and Comfort of Fried Food

Fried food, fritura, fritanga, friture, frijituak, fri manje, gefrituud eten… The list goes on. Fried food is enjoyed across the world, across cultures and socioeconomic classes. Eating fried food provides the crunchiness and flavor we innately crave. At the same time, enjoying fried foods can be costly to our health, including risks to heart disease and increasing waistline. The dual value of fried foods, as a source of comfort and illness, make these foods a worthwhile subject of inquiry from an eater’s perspective, as presented in my latest publication, “We like Fried Things”: Negotiating Health and Taste among Hispanic Caribbean Communities in New York City, at the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition.

As described in the article,

the shared Spanish colonial history and insular geography result in similar cuisines that merge Spanish influences with foods from the precolonial indigenous populations and African influences brought from the times of slavery. Traditional diets in this community consist of white rice, beans, and meats (especially pork). Fried foods feature prominently in these cuisines. These include snacks, such as the Cuban croquette, the Puerto Rican alcapurria (deep fried green banana and root crop dough filled with meat or seafood), and the Dominican quipe (deep fried bulgur roll stuffed with ground lamb). Frying is also used to cook meats and side dishes, for example, tostones (fried, mashed green plantains), maduros (ripe, fried plantain slices), and fried yucca.

friedfoods

One of the interesting findings was the different levels of importance of fried foods as perceived by these informants. While Puerto Ricans consistently recognized the salience of this cooking method in their traditional cuisine, Cubans and Dominicans underscored the prevalence of other cooking methods, such as boiling and sauteing. When asked to reflect about the importance of fried foods, it was explained through the deliciousness of these foods, cost considerations, as well as their emotive value – the latter exemplified in this quote,

When you eat a good alcapurria, you start thinking about the times when it was prepared in your home, in Puerto Rico, and that is what you miss.

The consumption of these foods was also situated in local neighborhoods, where cuchifritos, Dominican bakeries and street vendors provide ready access to these foods.

cuchifrito

Cuchifritos in Spanish Harlem (Photo credit: Sofrito Magazine, http://sofritomagazine.com/blog/cuchifrito/)

bakery-les

Dominican bakery in the Lower East Side, featuring a small sample of fried foods.

festival

Fried food stand at community celebration in the Bronx.

These New York City formal and informal establishments seek to recreate the food outlets back home in the Caribbean, including the beach side fried food heaven of Piñones, in Puerto Rico,

pinones-puerto-rico-1

A view of Piñones (Photo credit: Puerto Rico Revealed, http://puertoricorevealed.com/pinones-puerto-rico/)

and the fritura stands in Dominican Republic,

fritura

Fritura stand in Dominican Republic (Photo credit: El Arte de La Gorda, http://giorcelia.blogspot.com/2015/08/10-reasons-why-you-should-skip-resorts.html)

The article is the result of my ongoing inquiries into Hispanic Caribbean cuisines in New York City. It is available for download through this link (limited to the first 50 downloads). I invite you to read it and send me your thoughts, either through comments below, or through my contact form.

Eating History in New Orleans

I started this post almost a month ago, in an airplane, on my way to New Orleans. The trip was one last vacation before the start of the spring semester. However, as a food scholar, a trip to a city like New Orleans will inevitably become work related.

New Orleans is famous for its restaurants. Restaurants and chefs play an important role in the city’s cultural production and reproduction.  As noted by Anthropologist (and New Orleans resident), David Berris, the place of restaurants in the city’s foodscape is different from other cities. The city has

a long standing food culture, a cuisine, built from local products, that is regularly produced in homes and restaurants and frequently discussed around local tables and in the local media. (Berris 2007: 153).

New Orleans cuisine is often described as Creole and Cajun. Just like my cocina criolla, Creole cuisine results from the blending of different influences, including  those of early Native inhabitants, the colonizers (Spanish and French) and the people that came after, including the African slaves. Cajun, on the other hand,  is one from the French speaking Acadian people, who arrived in Louisiana after being deported by the British from Canada. Like Creole cuisine, it results from the use of local ingredients and simple food preparations. For more on these distinctions, see this Chicago Tribune article.

A long weekend in New Orleans is not enough to digest the foodscape of the city, but I tried. As a tourist, taking a first bite at the city, I stayed at the French Quarter. Mostly skipping Bourbon St. at night, the Quarter offered walking access to historic culinary sites, such as Napoleon House. The landmark has been open for almost two centuries, named after the legend that the building was built as the home of Napoleon Bonaparte after his exile. History was consumed through their signature (Italian) muffuletta, a round sandwich built with ham, Genoa salami, pastrami, Swiss cheese, provolone and an olive salad. This view of the kitchen shows the muffuletta in progress,

nola_napoleon

The Kitchen at Napoleon House

I also tried the boudin sausage, which turned out to be a be a bloodless morcilla, the blood sausage consumed in Spain and many of its old colonies, like Puerto Rico.  Continuing to make culinary comparisons, I also tried the  “New Orleans Favorites”, red beans and rice and the Jambalaya, reminding me of the closeness between my cocina criolla and New Orleans Creole cuisine.

nola-pimmsThese foods were downed with a Pimm’s Cup, a drink that

made its mark at the Napoleon House bar in the late 1940s amongst the bon viveur set. Unique to its maker, it is a gin based aperitif mixed with fresh lemonade, 7 up, and a sliver of cucumber that would be a refreshing cocktail that cools you off during heated summer days in New Orleans. –  Napoleon House.

While eating is a big part of a New Orleans visit, so is drinking. The city is home to many classic cocktails, like the sazerac, first concocted by a local apothecary in 1838 and is said to be the first cocktail in the United States. Another New Orleans creation is the Vieux Carré, a drink named after the earlier name of the French Quarter, the “old square”. This drink was first mixed in the 1930s at the Hotel Monteleone, where I enjoyed by first, at the Carousel Bar,

nola_carrousel

And yes, I also had other classics in the New Orleans tourist menu: Beignets and several gumbos,

nola-beig-and-gumbo

Gumbo and Beignets from Cafe Beignet

as well as the local Gulf fish, my favorite of all I ate, pictured below:

capture

Louisiana Gulf Fish Amandine (This photo of Meauxbar Bistro is courtesy of TripAdvisor)

As a caribeña, my cultural upbringing and food is the result of creolization, just like that in New Orleans. Because of this historical link, the city felt familar, a welcomed home-like respite from New York City. A weekend was certainly not enough to eat many of the city classics, including the po’boys and alligator meat. At the same time, this short experience allowed me to see a different way to experience, celebrate and sell the result of mixing different cultures in a pot, providing a new, comparative lens to approach my ongoing work with cocinas criollas in the Caribbean.

~~~~~~~ 00 ~~~~~~~~

Acknowledgement: This culinary adventure was shared with some amazing travel companions. A special thanks to fellow traveler, B. Betancourt, for helping us navigate and taste the Old Quarter.

Reference and further reading: Berris, D. and D. Sutton (2007). “Authentic Creole: Tourism, Style and Calamity in New Orleans Restaurants”. The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of where we eat. D. Berris and D. Sutton. New York, Berg: 151-166.