Differentiation of Latinx and Hispanic
In order to first discuss the topic, it is necessary to make the distinction between Latinx and Hispanic clear. Latinx people are from the entirety of Latin America, which includes Brazil, while Hispanic people are from Spanish-speaking countries. When describing food from these regions, in many cases, we are wrongly categorizing them into solely Mexican foods. Mexican foods, which cover items such as tortilla and tacos, are the foods that Americans are most exposed to, but Latinx and Hispanic food is so much more diverse. Many foods from these regions have commonalities such as the inclusion of rice and beans, but even these similar ingredients are diverse or cooked very differently in each country’s culture because of the mix of indigenous cultures and in the cases of Hispanic countries, Spanish colonization culture. For example, although beans are a staple ingredient in many Latinx dishes, refried beans are more popular in Mexico, while red beans are used more in Central American dishes, and black beans are common in Caribbean dishes. Each region also has its own specialty ingredients, such as the addition of tropical fruits in Central American and Caribbean dishes and potatoes in Ecuador and Peru where many varieties of the root vegetable can be found.
Hispanic/Latinx foods in America
The mainstream tacos, burritos, and nachos that we see in the States are just Americanized versions of a combination of different Hispanic and Latinx foods. The origin story of many of these classics actually shows this pattern. For example, nachos, a delicious snack of tortilla chips and toppings, was created on the border of Texas and Mexico by a Mexican chef. The dish was made with leftover scraps for the wives of Texan soldiers who were stationed at the US military base Fort Duncan. This food, as one can see, has very American origins. American burritos are also not the same as the one that was first made in Mexico. The first burritos were filled with meal leftovers, such as rice and beans. The burrito traveled to the United States through Mexican migrant workers known as braceros and from there, the idea exploded from Southern California to the rest of the States.
Most of the “Latinx or Hispanic” foods that Americans have experienced have an origin story based in America or became popular in America, not the country of origin: these foods are not commonly consumed in other Latinx countries. For example, the “Mexican” burritos and nachos found in America are not as commonly eaten as chilaquiles (fired corn tortillas with salsa, eggs, chicken and beans) or elote (corn kernels covered with chili powder, lime, sour cream, and cheese) in Mexico.
Common Hispanic/Latinx Foods
Next, we will explore some other common foods in Latinx cultures that are not as well-known in America:
- Tamales (Mexico)
- Made with the corn-based dough called masa and filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables and wrapped with a leaf wrapper.
- Baleadas (Honduras)
- A folded flour tortilla filled with beans, eggs, and cheese
- Ropa Vieja “Old Clothes” (Cuba)
- Shredded beef, beans, rice, and sofrito (a tomato sauce made with onions and other vegetables), usually on top of a fried plantain
- Arepas (Columbia and Venezuela)
- A corn meal patty or pocket that can be filled with different toppings such as meat, cheese, and beans.
- Ceviche (coastal regions of Latin America)
- A combination of raw fish, citrus, onions, and other ingredients
- Each region specializes ceviche with a different seafood and other seasonings such as with shrimp in Ecuador and Mexico
- Pepián (Guatemala)
- A stew with meat and vegetables such as tomatoes, tomatillos, and spices along with fruits
- Pupusas (El Salvador)
- A round patty made with masa flour, which can be made eaten with beans, meat, and cheese, or just by itself
Many of these foods are becoming more popular in America and we can make comparisons between some of these foods and Americanized Latinx or Hispanic foods such as how baleadas and pupusas can be seen as a relative to the more commonly known quesadillas.
Food and Community
Food brings the Latinx/Hispanic community together to celebrate their heritage and is a way for people and cultures all around the country to experience and learn about the Latinx/Hispanic community.
One example of the globalization that can happen through food is the bakery La Esperanza. The name of the bakery translates to hope and it was named by the owner Ezequiel Moreno, who hoped to settle in America and expand and his Mexican roots. The bakery was located in La Plaza, a downtown Los Angeles neighborhood home to a diverse group of people such as those of Mexican, Japanese, and Italian heritage. The bakery offered both authentic Mexican dishes and American dishes, catering to many different cultures, and as a result, bringing all of these different cultures together.
Hispanic holidays such as Posadas and Nochebuena, which are celebrated with Christmas, are marked by a large feast and special foods such as tamales and rosette cookies called buñuelos. These unique foods also bring the Hispanic and Latinx community together during holidays and festivals.
Really, the list goes on and on for examples of how food brings the Hispanic and Latinx community together, and also how it brings the entire melting pot of cultures in America together. The “Hispanic” and “Latinx” foods that most Americans have been exposed to do not even begin to cover all of the diverse foods that belong to all of these countries. It is important for all of us to have an awareness of where these foods are from and their origin story to truly appreciate them and give the proper recognition to Hispanic and Latinx cultures.
Want to make some of these delicious foods we talked about at home? Check out this website with recipes from Latina women: https://hispanickitchen.com/author/mexicanappetizersandmore/