September 12th, 2007

Eating in exile – Gourmet goes Latin

Cover of September 2007 Gourmet magazineFor the past two days, I’ve been reveling in the latest issue of Gourmet magazine the Latino America issue. If it weren’t for Elise of Simply Recipes and her Puerto Rican friend Maria, I might have missed it, but I’m glad that, albeit late, I learned about it and got my hands on a copy. Elise calls this the best issue ever and although I’m not a regular reader of Gourmet I have to say this issue struck a chord with me, like I’m sure it has for many.

The cover calls Latino food America’s fastest growing cuisine, not surprising given the rapid growth of Latinos in the country, but that’s not what touched me. It was more a sense of pride and excitement from seeing something so closely connected to me — there were three Colombian dishes in the issue — introduced with beautiful pictures into the American gastronomical consciousness.

It’s not often I see a whole issue of a U.S. magazine devoted to the cuisine of Latin American countries beyond Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Inevitably, the issue devotes quite a bit of space to these countries’ cuisines (they are, after all, the three largest Hispanic populations in the United States), but it strikes a good balance. You’ll find recipes for Colombian arepas, Ecuadorian llapingachos and guanabana sherbet, among others.

Yet the issue is about more than recipes. There’s a common thread in its stories, one that’s not only true for Latino immigrants. Food defines and unites us, particularly when we’re away from what we know as ours. We’ve heard over and again that the first thing a group of immigrants does when they arrive in a new place is set up a restaurant or find ways to make their food.

Ana Menendez, who contributed a piece on Cuban food in Miami titled Exiles on Main Street touches on this in her article. In her piece, she takes readers from Versailles, which she calls the quintessential Cuban cliche, to Enriqueta’s, to one of my recent favorite lunch stops: Tinta y Cafe

“In the fine tradition of immigrant restaurants throughout the centuries, Miami’s Cuban food scene is sustained by liberal helpings of scheming and nostalgia. Overindulgence is not just inevitable; it’s required.”

I think that holds true for anyone who has lived away from home, in the U.S. or elsewhere, and their cuisine. A lot of us are or have been exiles in some way, voluntarily or not, and food, our food, embraces us, comforts us and keeps us sane. And for reminding us of this, Gourmet scored high.

Cuban restaurants featured in Menendez’s Gourmet article

Versailles Restaurant
3555 SW 8th St.

Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop
186 NE 29th St.

Tinta y Cafe
268 SW 8th St.

Cacique Lunch Restaurant
112 W. Flagler St.

Rancho Luna Restaurante
45 NW 22nd Ave.

Cafe at Books & Books
933 Lincoln Road

La Carreta
11740 Kendall Dr.

Nena Restaurant
3791 Bird Rd.

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11 Responses to “Eating in exile – Gourmet goes Latin”

  1. I’m so glad you got a copy! I have so enjoyed reading this issue, and not just the recipes but the from-the-heart writing.

  2. I am too! I had to go to three places to find it. You’re right, the writing is great. Thanks again for the tip.

  3. I definitely agree with the statement that food (& wine) unites a group of people, no doubt. As for Latin cuisine becoming more popular, I agree with you that its likely because Latin Americans are the fastest growing population in the country. I kinda like Latin food, but not many dishes. Peruvian is one type that I like and I like some Mexican dishes. Cant say I like Cuban food though. Overall, I think that my inhibitions with Latin food come from the fact that I view Latin food as greasy and fattening. Thats not meant to be a “blanket statement”, its just based on the experiences Ive had. Im sure there are lighter, healthier dishes out there. Ive yet to try them though. Any reccos?

  4. BM – I see where you’re coming from. Many Latin dishes, especially what you find at restaurants, have fried foods or combine lots of starches. But at the same time, many Latin diets are rich in grains and vegetables, which are good for you. I think many Latino dishes suffer in the “health” department in their preparation. I’m a little biased because I grew up eating Latin food at home — no lard was used there.

    As for recommendations, you’ve given me something to think about for a future post. For now, I’m sure you’ve had ceviche if you like Peruvian food. Seafood dishes, including ceviches, are also part of the Ecuadorian diet. I had the best shrimp ceviche on the coast there. They also have a lot of potato-based dishes, like potato cakes and potato soup. Colombian ajiaco, a potato, chicken and vegetable soup, if prepared right isn’t greasy at all, but it’s not for the carb conscious. La Moon Restaurant has a very good one, although their serving could feed two people.

    There are also sudados, which literally means sweated and I’ve seen most commonly translated as steamed. These are found in several countries’ cuisines. In Colombia, pollo sudado (“sweated” chicken), in Peru sudado de pescado (which is also found in the Colombian coast and in Venezuela).

    I realize my response is little biased to the Andean region because that’s what I’m most familiar with. Do other m&l readers have recommendations?

  5. Hey BM, you’re hilarious! Let’s just slam practically our entire hemisphere’s cuisine out of ignorance-well, at least you admit as much. Ever had a burger and fries at the diner? Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy? Man, American food is fattening and greasy! Gimme an arepa!

  6. Great article Paula!!


  7. Miami Danny,

    There were 2 roads you couldve taken in response to my post. You chose to take the negative one. I didnt slam anything. I said that “I kinda like Latin food” and that based on the food that Ive tasted, most of it has been greasy and fattening which I dont particularly care for. Why you choose to take this and get all defensive about it is due to your own issues, not mine.

  8. Honestly, regardles of what cultural background the food is, if it gets cooked in a restaurant kitchen in the United States the odds of it being greasy and fattening are high.

  9. BM, my friend, I take offense at ignorance. Period. You said “I kinda like Latin food, but not many dishes.” And, “Overall, I think that my inhibitions with Latin food come from the fact that I view Latin food as greasy and fattening.” That’s insulting to every thinking individual, ‘Latin’ or not. If you can’t see the offensiveness and bigotedness of your statement, you need help. I am not being negative in any way. Quite the contrary, I am promoting the idea that ignorance is not an excuse for stereotyping a culture. I have eaten Mexican, Pueto Rican, Peruvian, and also Haitian, Brazilian, and Filipino food in the last 2 weeks. None could be categorized as greasy and fattening-Maybe you are thinking of Taco Bell?

  10. Paula- Thanks for posting this. It would’ve totally passed me by. I’m going to check it out!

  11. I guess I dont see why thats insulting… If I say that I view Chinese food as really salty and loaded with MSG, is that insulting? All Im doing is describing a type of food based on the items Ive eaten. Im not stereotyping anything, nor am I being bigoted in any way. I asked for recommendations on Latin food that isnt fattening/greasy so I could find new items to broaden my food horizon and Paula was unoffended enough to provide some. Its a food discussion. Why you chose to play the race card is, like I said, due to your own issues, not mine. Im sorry you choose to interpret things that way.

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