“What doesn’t kill you, makes you fat” – Esmerelda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican
Food is something that is important in a lot of cultures and it is no less important in the various Latino communities. In The Place We Went to Yesterday, Ella leads us on a journey of the sights and smells and tastes of Puerto Rican cooking. One of her favorite things on a summer day is a piragua. Piragua is to the Latino community what an Italian ice is to my own childhood. In short, it’s a cup of ice shaved from a giant block and then doused in a sweet, delicious flavored syrup.
Perhaps her favorite dish is sancocho. This is a complex though rustic dish and I sometimes feel like it has everything except the kitchen sink in it. Full of beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, plantains, potatoes (or yuca) and corn, it’s rich and filling. Making it is a labor of love, really, as it can take all day simmering quietly on the stove and like many of my own dishes, the longer it sits, the better it tastes.
Recipes abound, but perhaps the simplest is from Goya themselves. I’ve seen variations with goat meat and homemade sofrito and both of those are things that don’t interest me. First of all, I’ve tried goat and it’s nothing to write home about. Also, while homemade sofrito is amazing, it’s so readily available now that making it myself just seems like an unnecessary step.
Growing up in Miami, my food preferences were heavily influenced by Hispanic (namely Cuban and Puerto Rican) culture. This had a direct impact on writing this story and nowhere is it more noticeable than in Ella’s own food choices. Now, I’m clearly not her but like her, I can smell a pot of sancocho from a mile away and if given the choice, will always choose a strong cup of Bustelo coffee over Starbucks.