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:

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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…

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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

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

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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.

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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

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Returning from Puerto Rico

I start this post in the plane. A dozen of pasteles and six mallorcas sit inside a small suitcase in the overhead compartment, while a jar of acerola jam is wrapped and saved underneath, in my checked bag. I am flying back to my current address in the “big apple”, coming from my first home, la isla del encanto. I’ve just spent 18 days in Puerto Rico, splitting time between family, tourism and work- sometimes, lines blurring between the three.

A serendipitous meeting with a professor from the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey a few months ago landed me the opportunity to give a talk at this institution, where more than 10 years ago I started my studies in Biology, at the Rio Piedras campus. The seminar, titled “Talking about Food: The healthy, the pleasurable, and the complicated”, brought together my research in El Salvador and my current work in the Spanish Caribbean, aimed at starting a different conversation around eating, nutrition and well-being.

This talk coincided with my one year anniversary as a faculty fellow in the NYU Food Studies program. This relatively new, interdisciplinary approach has allowed me to delve deeper into the many complexities we face in the act of eating, moving beyond the study of “healthy eating” to addressing the significance of food in our daily lives. More specific, the role of food in the lives of those living away from “home”, like me. Food discourses have a deep-rooted influence of nutrition. More often than not, we value food in terms of calories, deconstructing foods and meals into quantifiable pieces, namely, fat, carbs, and protein. Yet, in our daily food experiences, eating is also a source of pleasure and memory, and food is also a vehicle for social interaction and economic development.

During these past 18 days in Puerto Rico, I ate, drank, laughed, swam, tanned, rested and worked. I had amazing meals, and not so great ones, made better by the company. I bring these memories with me, inside the food packed in the overhead compartment. I’ll gradually enjoy these mallorcas for breakfast, and the pasteles for lunch or dinner, along with rice, sometime during the week. The calories and nutrient content of these foods will not matter. They signify home. Consuming those honors the local hands that prepared them, and my mom, who loving bought these for me. The sweetness of the mallorca and the meatiness of the pastel will be intensified, in my palate, by the memories and the taste of home. In these future meals, food will be memory, and eating, an act of remembering.