Connecting to My Family’s Culture Through Food

“Mommy, this was good. Thank you,” my seven-year-old son said as he got up from the table and kissed my cheek before rushing off to play with toys. I flushed with a sense of pride and surprise. It’s as if he knew exactly what I needed.  It was the perfect reward and acknowledgement of the meal I poured my heart into. The meal that was meant to connect our family and teach our children about some of their culture.

Even though I don’t speak the language, I have always connected with my family’s culture through the food. My husband is the same way. We love international foods, but especially foods from our family’s various backgrounds. My family is Puerto Rican and my husband’s family is half Cuban and half Persian. When we visit his parents our kids adore eating Persian rice, kabob, ghormeh sabzi and many other traditional dishes. With my family, during special holidays my kids love to eat Flan, rice pudding, arroz con gandules and platanos maduros. The food we rarely eat, but may be our favorite, is Cuban food.

This is where my husband and I have always connected. We adore Cuban food. So, last week I decided to treat him and our kids to a big homemade Cuban meal. I pulled out a few recipes and tackled making some of our favorite dishes. I planned it out perfectly.

On the menu was croquetas de jamon (a deep-fried food with minced ham inside), platanos maduros (fried sweet plantains), white rice, black beans, picadillo (ground beef with olives and raisins), and for dessert a traditional flan.

As I began cooking, my husband and I talked about how he remembered his grandmother making the croquetas almost every day. She would wake up early and start grinding the meat. She would roll out each piece perfectly and cover them with the breading. Then she fried each one to the most perfect golden color. Each croqueta was uniform in size and shape. It was like an art form. I laughed as I looked at my multi-sized pieces. And we joked that she probably didn’t learn how to make it from the Internet like I did.

I could see the pride in his eyes as he watched me. He was happy that we were connecting with the grandmother I never got the chance to meet. The person I have only heard stories about. I wish I could have watched her roll out the croquetas with my husband.

As I rolled and fried each piece I thought of my Abuelita. I remember visiting her in Puerto Rico and would watch her roll out her own versions of these fried croquetas. She always admitted that she did not enjoy cooking and the family joke was that she wasn’t that great in the kitchen, but just like most mothers of her generation, she did it every day. It was considered a big part of being a mother and a wife.

You made your rice and beans, you rolled and fried, you sliced, you cooked and you served. There were no shortcuts or microwave ovens. There were no fast fixes. You spent a lot of your day cooking and cleaning and ironing and caring for the children. This was how both my grandmother and my husband’s grandmother raised their families. With similar foods and similar values.

It’s interesting to me how I simultaneously felt in awe of how hard they worked for their families, but also relief that I did not have to spend my entire day in the kitchen. I am happy that this is not what is expected of me as a wife or mother.

As the aroma of the sweet platanos, savory picadillo, and delightful flan filled the house, the children came into the kitchen wide-eyed and hungry. The six and seven-year-old wanted to know what everything was. More importantly, they wanted to hear the stories about their great grandparents. They wanted to taste everything and were delighted to know that this was food from our family. Food that can connect both sides of the family.

Everything tasted great despite the croquetas being unevenly shaped and a little on the large side and the flan being slightly tilted and denser than I like. All in all, I was pleased with my efforts. But, I was even more pleased that I could share this with my children and my husband. It is important for me to keep our heritage alive and what a better way than through food.

Do you have any traditions that keep your family connected with your heritage?

cubandinner

About 

Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.

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Comments

  1. How important to pass both your husband’s and your heritage on to your children through sharing cultural dishes.