Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with Childhood Dishes from Business Owners Across North America

Latinx culture is as diverse as the more than 20 countries that the term includes. Yet one thing links them all – a love for connection to culture that can only come through food, family, and gatherings. 

Growing up in a Cuban-American household, I learned that there is no greater way to express hospitality than through food. I remember the days of excitement while waiting for my abuela’s arroz con pollo a la chorrera – a more soupy take on yellow rice with chicken. It was a grandmother’s hug on a plate. 

In honor of a celebration of our herencia hispana, we wanted to bring those virtual hugs to you with stories from Latinx business owners across North America. Read on as they share their favorite childhood dishes with us. I think we can all agree that a virtual hug in the form of food is something we can all use these days. ¡Que disfrutes! Translation: enjoy it!

To learn how you can discover Latinx businesses serving these dishes near you on Yelp click here.

Alma Alcocer, El Alma Austin – Austin, TX

Born and raised in Mexico City, Alma Alcocer is the Executive Chef of El Alma Cafe. This Mexican restaurant in the heart of Austin, is named after Alma and the words  meaning “the soul” where chef hopes to give customers the feeling of dining at her home.

Favorite Childhood Dish:

Because we are in September, Mexico’s independence month, all I can think of is chiles rellenos, they are not an everyday meal but a celebratory dish. Every time I roast a poblano pepper over an open flame I think of the smells of my childhood kitchen, it’s sweet, smokey, and a little spicy, just like I like my food.

Belen Bailey, Sweets by Belen – Houston, TX

Belen Bailey is an Afro Peruvian and Afro Latina who owns Sweets by Belen. After teaching Spanish for 15 years, she took a leap of faith  a few years ago to open Sweets by Belen. The shop is a tribute to her grandmother and mother who sacrificed so much for their family so they could live here. 

Favorite Childhood Dish:

My favorite childhood dish is one of my mom’s favorites. She used to bake it on the weekend when I was a child. In Peru, it’s called Pionono, while other countries call it brazo gitano or de reina.  This version is a jelly roll cake filled with dulce de leche (translation: candy made of milk).

Claudia Diamante and Andréa Vieira, The Nail SaloonWashington, DC

Claudia Diamante was raised in Argentina with a Brazilian mother and Italian father. She was raised with a prevalent mix of those cultures, which has always had her appreciate her heritage. Growing up she fantasized about having her own business. She owns The Nail Saloon with Andréa Vieira. Andréa was born and raised in Brazil with a “ginormous family” (40 aunts and uncles and more than 50 cousins to be exact). This taught her the home was where a full house is, filled with where things are loud, crowded and filled with laughter. This is the spirit of connection they bring to the Nail Saloon.

Favorite Childhood Dish:

Claudia: My favorite childhood recipe is “choco-torta,” which to this day, is one of my favorite desserts when I go back home. It’s so indulgent and rich, it has the best ingredients in the world (chocolate and dulce de leche) and the best part it is that it’s the easiest recipe ever!

Andrea: I love to cook for large groups and there are many recipes that connect me to my origins. Big meals like “feijoada” – a bean and pork stew that is one of the national dishes of Brazil – is among one of my favorites. It has roots in slavery, a terribly painful part of our history, but today I’d call it representative of our people. Brazil is like a pot of delicious stew – a country rich with races, colors, and flavors – and even though I am a U.S. citizen and quite American, it will always be home.

Pablo Alcorta, Malbec Argentinean Cuisine – Pasadena, CA 

Pablo Alcorta is Argentine from Patagonia.  His passion for cooking came from his father, and to the value that his family gave to everything that surrounded good food. Pablo’s mother is an excellent cook too. Food and wine were the center of his family and friends gatherings, the perfect excuse to motivate any celebration or the simple fact of sharing a moment.
In 2008 Pablo and his brother, Luciano, decided to open Malbec Argentinean cuisine in the city of Pasadena in Los Angeles. A great satisfaction is to see how different cultures came together to enjoy Argentinean culture.  They have been in business for over 12 years, with three restaurants being an important part of the LA community. 
Favorite Childhood Dish:
Since I was a kid, my favorite food and the one I enjoyed the most was something very simple and I think the most popular in all of Argentina. Choripan is simply a baguette with great quality Argentinean Style chorizo ​​and homemade chimichurri.  It was very common to enjoy it before the barbecue, at the football stadium, or on the street.  I think it is the quintessential street food in all of Argentina.

Riccardo Romero, Arepas Cafe, Astoria, NY

Riccardo Romero was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. He opened Arepas Cafe with no restaurant experience, but a desire to bring the traditional flavors of his country to life in Astoria. What’s that? The arepa – which he describes as a party in a sandwich that you can fill with nearly everything!

Favorite Childhood Dish:

When I was coming back from school, I was always expecting to eat “El Pabellon Criollo.” It was made with rice, platanos, black beans (caraotas) and shredded beef. Mi favorito!

Val Chang,  Itamae + B-Side by Itamae –  Miami, FL

Val Chang 28 year old Peruvian-born chef and dog lover living and working with her family (Nando and Papa Chang) here in Miami. They opened their Nikkei restaurant Itamae in the Miami Design District in early 2018, and then B-Side by Itamae in Wynwood’s 1-800 Lucky in May 2019.  B-Side is our sushi bar.  They also operate the sushi bar in the Suite level Bacardi lounge at the AAA, home of the Miami Heat.  (Go Heat!)

Favorite Childhood Dish:

My favorite dish that takes me back to my Peruvian upbringing is Cebiche con Torrejitas de Choclo.  Torrejitas de choclo are these delicious and comforting homemade corn fritters that we make using native Peruvian corn.  It is the perfect complement to the spice and acidity of the cebiche.

To learn how you can discover Latinx businesses serving these dishes near you on Yelp click here.