So, as you recall we are celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month through October 15, and as promised I want to bring some more Hispanic and Latin flavor to your life. You’re welcome! I am starting with my absolute favorite thing ever: food! Today for you I have some of the Hispanic staples. Do forgive me if I make you hungry, ha!
Paella Valenciana. This is a traditional Spanish dish. We know Spain has great food choices like patatas bravas, gazpacho, and Spanish tortilla. Paella Valenciana is perhaps their most famous dish. It is a rice dish and there are several stories of how the dish originated but they all go back to a very common start point: humble beginnings. It was made of leftovers by Valencian farmers for lunchtime over an open fire. There are so many varitations of this dish but note original paella contains snails and not seafood as it has evolved into. Another interesting fact is that “paella” is actually the name of the cooking pan used and not the actual dish.
Ropa Vieja. Described as the Cuban national dish, this stew was brought to the island by the Spanish conquistadors. Ropa vieja is Spanish for “old clothes” and they do have a really cute (I mean, I don’t think this can be described any other way) story about how the dish originated. The story goes that a very poor old man shredded his old clothes and cooked them to feed his family because he had no money. He prayed over the food as it was cooking, and a miracle occurred turning it into a rich meat stew. Cute, right! And while I am sure not everyone buys the story, they do need to give this shredded beef stew a chance.
Pupusas. Pupusas are thick hand-made tortillas stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese, Salvadorian chicharrón, squash, refried beans or loroco (vine edible flowers from Central America). Pupusas were created by the Pipil tribe who inhabited the territory now known as El Salvador many centuries ago, but they weren’t widespread across El Salvador until the late 1950’s. In the 1960’s pupusas stands started proliferating throughout the whole country and even making their way to the neighbor countries of Guatemala and Honduras. Pupusas made their way to other countries in the 1980’s due to the Salvadorian civil war. While the traditional fillings still remain, you can now find more variations of pupusas. Regardless of the filling, they are served with curtido (a pickled cabbage relish) and tomato sauce.
Churrasco. The history of churrasco o asado (barbecue) is quite long and complicated, but one thing is for sure, it originated in South America. Now I think this dish is more of Latin dish than a Hispanic dish because the dish originated in the area where the Guarani Indians were housed. That is mainly Brazil now, but they had parts of Paraguay and Argentina back when. Churrasco was part of their basic meal and it consisted of fresh meat roasted over hot coals on the ground and seasoned with little ash and later during Gauchos’ time it was skewered and seasoned with coarse salt before slowly roasting over large pits in the ground. Today you will find many variations of churrasco based on each country. Depending on the location you will find it served with different sauces like chimichurri, salsa roja o chirmol.
Empanadas. These pastries filled goodness have also a complicated history. Word has it empanadas originated in Spain and spread around Latin America as conquistadores took over. Regardless of how they started, I can tell you that pretty much every country has its own version. Savory and sweet empanadas can be baked or fried. The choices are endless my friends! Empanadas are considered a type of fast-food in Argentina where you can find restaurants all over the city with these goods ready to hit the road. Not only the fillings can vary on each country, but so does the dough used to make them and their name. When I worked in San Francisco I used to get El Porteño empanadas often. My favorite one is the chicken and one of the biggest surprises for me was that they add raisins to their empanadas. That was new to me because back home it was all sweet or all savory, but that touch of sweetness works great in my opinion.
Ceviche. This dish has been around for a long time. The Inca Empire created the basic version of ceviche and with the arrival of conquistadors to their land the citrus fruits were added to the dish. Ceviche has evolved since then and most of Latin countries have created their own variation of it though most versions contain the standard ingredients of seafood and lime juice. I think of ceviche as a light and refreshing dish and most definitely one of my favorites since I love seafood.
Tacos. These are with no doubt a Mexican staple though the origins are unknown. There are several theories that tacos originated by the miners at the silver mines in Mexico and some others say they go all the way back to the Aztecs. I guess we will continue with the mystery of the invention itself but there is no way we will stop enjoying them! You can find some version of tacos even in fancy restaurants (yes, I am talking to you fish tacos on jicama “tortillas”), and let’s not forget United States has their “Americanized” version of tacos with Taco Bell… yup, believe or not Taco Bell was mentioned in pretty much every history of taco article I read. Anyway! As I was saying, there are so many versions of tacos these days, but authentic tacos are in fact hard to find. Authentic tacos are served with fresh corn tortillas, marinated meat, slices of fresh lime, and topped with cilantro, chopped onions and a sauce of your choosing (hold the sauce for me because mama don’t do spicy).
Tamal. I simply couldn’t find where it all began when it comes to tamales, but I can tell you that there are over 5,000 varieties of tamales all over Latin America. Every country has multiple types of tamales. You can find tamales wrapped in plantain leaves and in corn leaves; some countries have both versions. You can find sweet tamales which typically are made with fruit, seeds and even chocolate. You can find savory tamales which typically are with lard, meat, beans, and chilies. And tamales more than a food staple, have a great cultural value. Every country share tamales (or at least some kind of tamal) in especial occasion making them a type of celebration dish.
I definitely made myself hungry with this post! I am so proud of the diversity of Hispanic and Latin food. I’d love to hear what your favorite Hispanic or Latin food is. I have so many, go figure… my love for food is to the infinity and beyond!
Mama Bear Kim