Sugary Avocados, Mystery Flan
Food is the ultimate expression of one’s culture, and even our smallest assumptions about what we eat reveal a lot about where we come from. Sometimes this happens not only for those who venture into other countries, but to those from similar cultures. DRCLAS LehmannVisiting Scholar from Brazil, Salvador Sandoval, remembered the time he and his wife came to the United States. They bought avocados to make guacamole, which Sandoval knew well, being born of Mexican parents. As he walked into the kitchen, he laughed to find his wife pouring sugar into a blender with the avocados. In Brazil, avocados are not considered fit for salty food, as they are in Mexico.
Quality of food as well as its cultural context varies from place to place. In Belize, Norm Beauchemin, former DRCLAS Financial Officer, found that beef presented a real challenge. He was teaching business courses at a community college in Corozal, a town of no more than 10,000-12,000 people, with a hybrid population, consisting of mestizos, Chinese, and West Indians. While the overall menu reflected the variety of its people, the beef could only be obtained from a couple of butchers in town, who would mysteriously disappear in their living rooms and return with clear, plastic bags filled with meat. According to Beachemin, he would cook it for hours in a futile attempt to tenderize it. “It would’ve made an excellent sling shot or trampoline,” he wryly observed.
Cooking ingredients can sometimes be found in the most surprising places. Who would’ve thought you could find the masa to make empanadas in Star Market? De Fortabat Visiting Scholar Gastón Gordillo from Argentina didn’t have to look too long to make the empanadas with his mother’s recipe from Buenos Aires. Empanadas are made in different forms all over Latin America, and usually consist of a thick dough filled with chicken or beef. According to Gordillo, his empanadas estilo argentino are made with olives, green onion, and eggs.
Then there are recipes which carry a flavor of mystery. On a trip in the 1980’s to Cuba, Outreach Coordinator, Jill Netchinsky Toussaint learned how to make coconut flan from an older woman whom she had met at a party. In an attempt to not break with the oral tradition in her family, the woman refused to give Netchinsky the recipe. “It can never be written down,” she whispered.
Tanya Pérez-Brennan is half Colombian and Irish and lived in Brazil as a child. She is a writer/journalist who has covered Latin music for the Boston Globe and is currently working at DRCLAS with the Executive Director and the Visiting Scholars/Fellows Program.
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