“Have a banana, have a whole bunch,/ It doesn’t matter what you had for lunch…” –Weird Al Yankovic
(I hope you guys are enjoying this– if you don’t, the red ‘x’ is in the upper right-hand corner.)
I happened upon a show that is on the Cooking Channel and on Food Network (I don’t watch either channel very much, so it’s odd that I ever saw it). Media gadfly Mo Rocca (who was given that title on VH1’s “I Love The…” series) hosts a show where he meets up with grandparents of varied heritage and helps them cook a family dish. It’s called “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” and he never makes ravioli and I don’t think his grandmother is available anymore (God rest her, if that be the case). It’s actually really cute, and I got to see a solid three hours of 30-minute episodes. The dishes were Irish, Jamaican, Russian, Indian, and Ecuadorian.
Being part Ecuadorian myself, I was especially interested in that episode. My Ecuadorian grandmother never left her country, and I last saw her when I was 12– she passed a couple years later (God rest her, as well). And while I know I ate her cooking when I visited, I can’t exactly remember what I had. There was a roasted pig (we used the ‘natural casing’ to make sausage afterward… I didn’t eat any sausage for at least a year after that revelation), and definitely– brace yourselves– guinea pigs. Don’t look at me like that– they’re not the cute fluffballs you see at PetCo! Those suckers are bred for food and they get pretty nasty in the process. It’s like eating rabbit without having to worry about big ears.
My parents never made a big deal out of cooking stuff specifically because it was native to our heritage; rather, we ate what my parents were willing to make. I mean, I certainly look like I have enjoyed food in my life! I’m working on that, though. I digress, however….
For one thing, Mo Rocca is a great host. He clearly came up with the idea on his own and somehow got the backing to make the show a reality. He’s funny, he’s clever, he’s the kind of guy you want to cook a family meal with and feed. He’s also Colombian– I actually didn’t expect that. But he speaks Spanish– which is excessively cool. I, on the other hand, understand most Spanish but still feel like an idiot when I try to speak it.
Second, I watched Mo and the Ecuadorian grandmother (with the Pureto Rican husband– my parents in reverse) make ceviche con camarones. I love ceviche– I have a crazy obsession with red onions. It’s the easiest thing in the world– red onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, cilantro, [she used cocktail sauce– I use ketchup usually], and shrimp (which is optional in my world… but I really want to do that next time). She also made seco de cabrito… goat stew. I can’t say as I’ve ever had the stuff. It looked good, but I’m very touchy about meats that aren’t the big 3: beef, chicken, and pork. I don’t even like veal all that much. And I’m convinced goat would have a weird goat-y taste.
Third, I would love to be on his show. But I’m not a grandmother. My Puerto Rican grandmother isn’t available anymore either (God rest her, of course). But she was the source of my most ethnic dish of all time: pasteles. In Spanish, that usually translates to ‘pastries,’ but that’s not what I’m talking about. At all. It’s boiled pork shoulder encased in a starchy masa blend wrapped with a piece of parchment. It’s way more complicated than that, to the point where it’s made once a year and the product frozen to be enjoyed for a few months afterward. I have to be in the mood for them, but I absolutely love making them– mostly because it would be the women of my family getting together and building several dozen pasteles over the course of many hours. The last time the women of my family were together was my grandmother’s funeral. There’s a part of me that longs for another pastele jamboree.
Food like that– it’s the best gift you can give your kids. It makes you different, in a very fascinating way. And knowing that it’s what brought your family together year after hear, holiday after holiday…. that’s what you pass on to the next generation.