Inside: Traditional Latin American Dishes… Yum!
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month again! The celebrations run from September 15 to October 15. One great way to celebrate is with traditional foods.
I love food. I love trying new dishes and experimenting with flavours. One of my favourite things to do for Hispanic Heritage Month, therefore, is to talk about food and to try some new dishes.
On this foodie-train of inspiration I’m sharing some traditional Latin American foods with you today.
We’ll visit Perú, México and Cuba!
Part of our Beginner Spanish Experience includes guest talks on different Latin American cultural topics. We tackle cultural stereotypes, local expressions and food! In fact, I generally end those sessions feeling particularly hungry. One food I found especially fascinating is Pachamanca from Perú. After listening to our speaker, Santiago, describe the way it’s prepared and how it tastes, I’ve added it to my bucket list.
Pachamanca derives from the Quecha language: “pacha” for earth and “manka” for pot. It is a traditional way of cooking that dates back to the Inca Empire. Imagine a literal “pot in the earth”. Pachamanca is most popular in the central Peruvian Andes but is used around the country during large family gatherings.
Big volcanic rocks, which can sustain the fire of the cooking process, serve as a heat source. The rocks are grilled for about an hour to get to the required temperatures, then they form the bottom layer of the cooking pit, which is dug into the earth. The first layer of food is the potatoes and other vegetables that require a lengthy cooking time. They are covered by the heavily seasoned meats, which are usually a combination of pork, chicken and beef or lamb. That’s covered with another layer of rocks which is topped with other vegetables like corn and peas in the pod. To top off the ”pot”, banana leaves cover everything. The leaves are covered with cloth and a layer of soil. The food is left to cook for one to two hours.
In The BSE, we also had a lovely talk from Laura about Mexico. One of the expressions she told us about is “chile, mole, pozole”. It’s used when there’s just too much going on. For example, her mom would tell her she was “chile, mole, pozole” if she’d put on an outfit with too many different colours, or materials or just… too many different elements.
Chile, Mole and Pozole are each stand-alone Mexican dishes/ foods. Let’s take a quick look at each one!
The word chile comes from the Náuhalt “chili” o “xili” and was a food consumed in Mexican lands even since pre-Hispanic times. There are actually 200 variations of chile in the country, but only about 64 of the domestic varieties are used in cooking.
I’ll admit, I’m quite a fan of the Tex-Mex dish “Chile con carne”. It’s a complete meal full of rich, complex flavours with just the right amount of spice (of course that varies to taste!) The dish is made from ground beef, tomatoes, onions, beans, cacao and chili. Chile con carne goes well with rice, couscous, tacos, fajitas or on nachos.
Mole -from Náhuatl “mōlli”, meaning “sauce”- is a sauce and marinade made with ingredients including chiles, tomatillos, dried fruits, spices and chocolate. Almost every Mexican state has its own traditional version of Mole. In Puebla, they cherish their Mole Poblano and try to assert their claim as being the originator of Mole, against the Mexican state of Oaxacca (which is home to the Mole Negro).
A stew made with chilies, pork (sometimes chicken too) and hominy (dried maize kernels). This dish dates back to pre-Columbian times and can be a daily meal or dressed up a bit for special celebrations.
Ropa Vieja literally translates to ‘old clothes’. There is a story told of a penniless man who once shredded and cooked his own clothes because he could not afford food for his family. He prayed over the ‘food’ as it cooked and a miracle occurred, turning the mixture into a tasty, rich meat stew.
Instead of old clothes, ropa vieja is now made with shredded beef and vegetables (which are supposed to resemble the old clothes). The beef, traditionally flank steak, is seared then braised for hours with onions, garlic, bell peppers and spices until it’s so tender it falls apart. Ropa Vieja is best served with rice and black beans.
The dish is well-loved in Cuba and has even earned the title of national dish… well, one of the national dishes.
Now I’ve made myself quite hungry again after writing about all these gorgeous traditional Latin American dishes. Time to go recipe hunting!