Book: Hardcover | 9.25 x 6.25in | 368 pages | ISBN 9781592403219 | 18 Oct 2007 | Gotham Books | Adult
Eduardo Machado was only 8 years old when his upper - middle class Cuban life came to an abrupt halt. Castro and the revolution of 1959 overthrew the then Prime Minister Batista and proceeded to nationalize educational institutions, hospitals, privately-owned businesses and even private land. As a result many Cubans, especially the ones that possessed money were forced to run away to the US. Eduardo and his 5-year old brother were airlifted to the US as part of Operation Peter Pan and they were followed by their parents about a year later. (at that time the US was sympathetic to the plight of the Cubans and many were able to start new lives in Miami and Los Angeles without too much of a problem).
So in that sense, Machado's memoir "Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home" again is a fairly architypical immigrant story but with one difference....Machado traces his family's journey from Cuba to the States and their induction into life in the US through food. In the book's early chapters you get descriptions of the traditional Cuban meals cooked in this grandparents' homes...there are recipes for the Cuban staple, black beans, Moros y Cristianos,(pg 42) Yuca with lime mojo and the famous Cuban Pork Roast.
In their first months in the US as exiles, his mother is unable to find Cuban foods like chorizo, yuca, plantains, fresh pineapple, black beans etc, so she learns to improvise with American processed foods, creating dishes like "Garbanzos with SPAM "Chorizo"(army ration SPAM) and Velveeta grilled sandwiches.
Soon however, they were curious enough to try Mexican food which was available in plenty throughout Los Angeles and soon the mom was making Cuban Enchiladas with Mexican corn tortillas. But ofcourse, like almost all immigrant families, American food culture soon permeated the Machado household and his mom was baking Southern Pecan pies and flans which I suppose signaled that the Machados were now firmly Cuban-Americans and no longer just Cubans.
Although this is not a recipe book, it is the wonderful recipes and descriptions of Cuban food that carry the book along. The memoir itself although interesting and moving sometimes tends to run into long,rambling passages, something I am not fan of. For me, the author's childhood reminisces, the food and his first return visit to Cuba made for enjoyable reading, the rest I will confess I found quite boring.
One notable fact I took away from this book is how unforgiving Cuban exiles can be when fellow exiles that sing the praises of the homeland.
Some recipes from "Tastes Like Cuba" that I hunted down on the internet.
Gladys' Garlic Chicken
( Gladys was someone Machado met on one of his visits to Cuba. She was running a paladar in a formerly exclusive section of Havana. Machado was enthralled by her cooking and intrigued by her situation...she was managing a business in a house where she used to work for members of the pre-Castro social elite)
Bistec Empanizado (Breaded Steak)
VACA FRITA (Pan-Fried Flank Steak With Onions and Mojo Sauce)
While we're on the subject of recipes there is another recipe book that came to my notice and all because of its rather quirky title, "The Axis of Evil Cookbook" by Gill Partington with recipes collected from Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Cuba.
Saddam Hussein she notes loved eating gazelles that were reared for him on a diet of cardamom and Kim Jong-il insists on importing delicacies from all around the world while his people are eating rice with bootlaces (no, there is no recipe for that)
Koresht fesenjan (chicken casserole)
Koresht is a delicately spiced Iranian casserole or stew, usually served with rice.
450g chicken pieces
225g ground walnuts
3 onions, chopped
4 mugfuls pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons sugar
A pinch of cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
Saute the chicken and onion in oil for about 15 minutes, stirring so it doesn't stick to the pan. Now chuck in the other ingredients, reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer gently for two hours, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thick and aromatic, but you may need to add some more water while it's cooking.I haven't tried this recipe or indeed any of the other 100 recipes in the book, but I am highlighting it here because I love the idea of putting together in a recipe book foods that the enemies of George Bush enjoy eating! There are also numerous cultural anecdotes and political insights.