My Hispanic Kitchen While Traveling the Road: Sazón and Café con Leche
I barely cook. Hmm. Let me qualify this further. What is less than barely cooking? I cook every once in a blue moon. Unfortunately, I do not have much time for cooking. I also vowed as a young girl to never learn how to cook. It was my form of Latina rebellion. Let me tell you, that was a big deal in my family’s eye. At boarding school, I never learned to cook. I lived in a dorm. At college, I never learned to cook. I lived in a dorm. After college, during my first job in Washington, DC, I barely cooked. I was having too much fun hitting the happy hour circuit. Cooking was just not my priority.
However, whenever I do feel the cooking itch or need, my Hispanic roots sprout back up. For starters,let me qualify my no-cooking statement. I do make something everyday in the kitchen. And that something showcases my Hispanic roots awesomely. I have two cups of coffee at home with boiled milk and creamer. I learned to do that as young girl for my mom. Hispanics, well, Puerto Ricans love coffee with heated (boiled) milk. I am not too sure what the rationale is for this but I can’t imagine my coffee without it. Note that you should boil the milk before pouring it into the cup and also make sure to stir the milk so that it doesn’t form a milk skin at the top. That is a whole other dish. When visiting Puerto Rico you can get this special type of coffee by asking for a “café con leche” (coffee with milk). It usually comes in a small cup. That’s my morning ritual that gets me going for the day. It is so ingrained in me that I never think about it being particularly Hispanic. On a business trip a few years back I visited an agency that offered us coffee. I couldn’t contain my excitement when they asked me for how long should they microwave my milk. They knew and understood! They were fellow Puerto Ricans. I was riding high the rest of that day.
It isn’t, however, the café con leche that drives my kitchen. It is the Sazón; which is a special blend of seasonings (including Coriander & Annatto) that exists in most Puerto Rican households-especially those in New York. Every supermarket here carries the seasoning packet (a Goya brand). No matter what food I make, be it Macaroni and cheese, corned beef, or omelets I add Sazón to it. It is the one true staple in my kitchen for it keeps me grounded to my roots wherever I go.
As someone who travels much for work, I am always carrying a lucky charm and a toy that my son has given me to take photos of throughout my travels. Let me note that I don’t carry Sazón packets on my travels but I have often been curious if they are sold in the various backroads and cities that I visit. For instance, when I lived briefly in Atlanta (which has seen an enormous growth in the Hispanic population), I actually managed to find a place that sold Sazón packets. Because I lived in a studio apartment at the time and I had to take a bus to the grocery store, I really didn’t cook while I lived there. However, I was so excited that I bought several boxes of the seasoning and used them in my Oscar party fare. Yes, I sprinkled some on the popcorn. I don’t recommend that to anyone, by the way. In California, although most of the Hispanic food stores cater to the large Mexican population, I managed to find Sazón. In the outskirts of Washington, DC I found South American grocery stores that carried Sazón. Even in Hawaii, I found a store that had a whole section devoted to these spices. Because of the huge Hispanic population growth the US has seen the last few decades and the large marketing appeal undertaken by Goya, more stores readily carry it and it is not a very strange occurrence to find it. Yet, whenever I see it in a store in my travels, I get a big smile.
I do not cook. But it sure is nice to have a sense of home, culture and identity in a seasoning packet that you can find while traipsing across the world.
Other Thoughts on Ingredients
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