Latino 101 How to Experience Latin Culture Through Food
Food is an essential element of living, but it has become far more than a basic need. Food has become something of an art form with home cooks and professional chefs alike participating as its artists by using fresh ingredients that work to create a one-of-a-kind flavor experience. When deciding where to eat, time has become such a significant factor thanks to our fast-paced lives; this means that bland fast food has become accepted and even favored to authentic dining experiences.
The Commodification of Food
Fast food quickly satisfies people thanks to a process known as commodification. Rather than stellar quality, people instead want a consistent, predictable, and fast product that they can consume; the burger you had at that one fast food place last week tasted exactly like the one you had today at that fast food place for a reason. While this is all fine and good for those that need a quick bite to eat, our dependence on food commodities means that many of us are disconnected from our food — most of us have no idea how that alleged “chicken nugget” came to be from a living creature. Food has evolved alongside of us, taking the flavors and processes of a specific people, region, and culture to make something distinctive and unique; in many ways, food can tell us a lot about people.
Food as Culture
World travelers agree that food is one of the single best ways to participate in a culture. Food transcends language and mannerisms to create a purely tangible experience that connects people through flavor. Even in the United States there are pockets of communities that band together to celebrate their culture through traditional food. Across the state of Florida alone there were 39,325 restaurants and bars in 2014, many of which are owned and operated by the state’s large Latino population. Miami in particular is well-known for its large number of traditional Latin restaurants that allow family and guests alike to directly experience Latin culture through the myriad of flavors served up in the kitchen.
Staples of Traditional Latin Restaurants
Like all food, every region has its own specialties and flavors that set them apart from nearby regions; Latin restaurants represent such a vast array of people and cultures that it would almost seem impossible to find two restaurants with the same menu. There are some staples that are widespread among Latin restaurants however, like grilled meat churrasco that is typically served up buffet-style in some restaurants. Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is a black bean stew with meat that is traditionally served with rice, vegetables, and assorted Latin sausages; Mexico’s national dish, mole poblano sauce, contains a spicy mixture of chili and chocolate that is traditionally served over turkey, chicken wings, or some other kind of meat. In addition to main courses, traditional Latin snacks such as tamales, chipas, and empanadas are commonly found in Latin restaurants across the nation. Food is hands down one of the best ways to explore a culture because it tells you not only what the people enjoy eating, but what is available to them fresh — take some time to explore different cultures by trying out some traditional restaurants in your area.