The best way to study another culture is to live in it. But if you can’t travel, meeting people of a new culture through their food is the next best thing. The University of Delaware has a weird schedule where the month of January and a bit of February turn into an optional 5-week Winter Session. This year, I decided to take an online course to help me spend my time off more efficiently. When I found an Anthropology 101 course that fulfilled a History Group General Education requirement and my University Multicultural requirement, I was sold. Anthropology is the study of humanity and explores all the aspects of life across all cultures of people.
When I read the syllabus earlier this month, I got a little frightened when I saw that one of our long-term projects was a 5 page review of “an ethnic restaurant that serves a type of food that you have NOT eaten previously… [that] serves the cuisine of a specific culture (e.g., Korea), not an entire continent (e.g., Asia).” With my food allergies, I am not very easily able to eat most “ethnic” foods due to the large amount of sesame and nuts in the cuisine of most Asian and African restaurants. I emailed my professor at the start of the term to tell her about my concerns with the project and proposed a few accommodations, and we decided that I should go to a Puerto Rican restaurant that I had visited once a few years ago and eaten at safely because she’d rather me eat a new food from a familiar restaurant than to not get to experience the cuisine first hand.
The restaurant experience that I had was incredible. The restaurant we went to, The Latin Corner, is absolutely adorable. The walls are covered in family photographs, musical instruments, and wall stickers with quotes about faith and family. It is run by an older couple who came to the US from Puerto Rico to have more opportunities in life. Now they have 9 grandchildren and two of them have food allergies. Their restaurant is 100% peanut and tree nut free because of their grandkids, and they understand the severity of allergies and were willing to work with me to find safe and delicious food to try out.
I ended up splitting a papas rellenas with my dad as our appetizer, and tried the mofongo with oven roasted chicken. Papas rellenas is a ball of mashed potatoes with a ground beef filling that is deep fried until the outside is crispy. Mofongo is a thick stack of fried and mashed plantains baked in a new shape. This was topped with chicken broth and served with some pieces of roast chicken. My entire meal was absolutely perfect, and my parents enjoyed their food just as much as I did.
I was so lucky to have such a perfect place to try new foods in my area, but this pleasant experience is just one big encouragement for me to go out into the world and continue to try new foods whenever I can.