Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Divine Puertorican Food

So, last Saturday I ventured into the predominantly Hispanic area of Milwaukee, hunting for yummy Puertorican food.

I know how to cook some of it. However, I don't cook it often. To me, it tastes better when someone else cooks it. Besides, to make it with the real flavor I am used to means cooking with ingredients that are not exactly the best for my health. So Puertorican food is a treat. And if it is a treat, I don't want to cook it!

My grandma used to make killer "pasteles" (a mix of shreded plaintain, meat and other ingredients you wrap in a plaintain leaf and boil until cooked, similar to a "tamale"). She also grew her own "gandules" (pigeon peas)in the yard, and sat for hours taking them out of their pods. I helped her sometimes. I remember rainy afternoons doing this, our hands stained green when we were done. Unfortunately, she left us before being able to pass on her culinary talents to me.

Then, there was "Tity" (Aunt) Carmen. Oh, she could cook! She taught me how to make rice and other things. I was never able to equal the taste of her food, though. One of my cousins, Noemi, learned from her and cooks pretty good, almost like Tity Carmen. Yet, not the same.

People asks all the time if Puertorican food is the same as Mexican food. I like Mexican food. But no, is not the same. When you see a box of Spanish rice at the grocery store, is not the same rice we make. There are as many differences as our people is different.

I miss the smells of our food everywhere, as you can get when you visit the island. If you are driving along the coast line, you can smell the sea along with the wind bringing the "tastes" of the seafood cooked in those restaurants around there. If you drive through the mountains, you can smell the rice, a pig roast, pasteles, the beans...occasionally, even an accident..."Alguien quemo las habichuelas!" (Someone must have burnt the beans!).

And in the urban centers, the smells of quick cafe-style restaurants, "cafeterias", where you find a case filled with lightbulbs keeping different fried delicacies warm, like "empanadillas" (a form of pasty filled with either meat, cheese, or any filling your imagination can find), "pastelillos", "bacalaitos"(fried cod), "rellenos"(potato balls filled with meat and fried), "mofongos" (plantain balls), and all sorts of sweet pastries people pick up for a quick, inexpensive lunch, or just as a feel-good snack...

Ah, I miss those smells. When I go visit, is the food that makes it all feel as if I never left. The foods of my childhood and youth. The tastes that are as fresh as the memories.

Yes, I went and had me some Puertorican, yummy food. I can't wait to do it again!


Raquel/Rachel said...

I miss quenepas so badly! And acerolas. I miss those too. My abuela made the yummiest pasteles, but I think she'd be very upset with me because I became a vegetarian in college so now many traditional puertorican foods are things I wouldn't eat. I haven't been back since before I stopped eating meat so I don't know what I would/will do if/when I return.

It's such fun reading your blog! I grew up in PR and also live in WI now.

La Jibara said...

Ay,bendito! LOL. Gracias! Oh, quenepas and acerolas! Love them too!

Anali said...

I love food memories. It sounds like your Aunt Carmen must have been a popular lady. I know I would have wanted to go to her house!

Cassy said...

I teach in a Hispanic community, and you can find any of those delicias you're talking about. I fell in love with mofongo some years back. One of my favorites is also yucca en mojo, and the platano salad (with the onions,vinegar, and oil) don't know what its called but I love it!

My sister-in-law makes the best arroz con gandules and she also makes pastelon for me - now there's a treat! Que hambre que tengo ahora!

La Jibara said...

Ah, Cassy, I know...I get hungry just thinking about are lucky!!!