A personal essay by Nina Rodriguez
With Hispanic Heritage Month coming to an end, I decided to reflect on my Latina background. As a Colombian, I appreciate the country’s essence and culture. An important Colombian value is family unity, and our food brings us together. From cheesy arepas to seasoned huevos pericos, we cherish the flavor and love together.
My family is constantly in the kitchen, curating dishes our ancestors made. While visiting my abuela when I was younger, I enthusiastically helped her create her famous sweet arepas. After she formed a hole in the cornmeal-based dough and added Monterey Jack cheese, I covered the hole and molded the dough into a disk shape. My abuela then coated the top with sugar and pan-fried them to a golden brown color. The crispy shell, the gooey inside, and love throughout the preparation connects me to my Colombian roots.
My family enjoys eating the arepas with huevos pericos for breakfast. Growing up, I watched my father and abuela cook over easy eggs with various vegetables and condiments. They would thinly chop green onions and tomatoes, sauté onion, beat the eggs, and add everything to a frying pan. After cooking, they sprinkle salt and pepper and lightly spread salsa verde and refried beans. Sometimes, my family adds chorizo on the side, but as a vegetarian, I don’t.
My dreams of traveling to my Latin country came true in the summer of 2018. My family and I traveled to Cartagena, Colombia to immerse ourselves in our ancestors’ culture. On the Caribbean coast, I was enjoying the 80 degree weather, white sand beaches, and tropical food. In the mornings, my family and I went to a family café near our Airbnb and devoured pan de bono (yucca flour filled with cheese — similar to arepas but fluffier) and café con leche (Colombia is known for its rich coffee beans.) On the streets of the old city, there are many fruit vendors — mostly coconuts, mangoes, and bananas — and ladies wearing exquisite fruit hats. Because of the tropical climate, coconut rice is a popular dish served at homes and restaurants, so I enjoy the sweetness and texture of it. Supporting local vendors and small restaurants helped me feel like a true local Colombian in the tight knit Cartagena community.
I am proud to have Hispanic roots; visiting the country and creating Latin dishes helps me appreciate Colombian culture. I encourage others to try dishes from other cultures — not only Latin American foods, but foods from your roots.