For the love of yellow cornmeal and corned beef hash Puerto Rican style: Being a non-traditional foodie

For the love of yellow cornmeal and corned beef hash Puerto Rican style: Being a non-traditional foodie

My son, probably just like millions of other six-year olds, loves pizza.  These snow days we have experienced in New York the past few weeks, has led to him enjoying pizza at home on a regular basis. When we went to Italy, he had pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner.   Italy presented to my son a boy’s dream come true.   Although, he did get a bit fussy after walking the Vatican for hours on end and then walking up the Spanish steps. As a die-hard New Yorker, I can unequivocally state that Rome, is a walking city. Although I am a die-hard New Yorker, my son who was born in Manhattan understands that New York is the greatest city on earth yet he doesn’t care much for that whole walking thing. Thus, Rome ‘s saving grace for him was the ubiquitous pizza serving.

Years from now I surely do hope that my son’s culinary tastes will be enhanced. Although surely pizza will still be part of his food repertoire. Let’s face it-who doesn’t like pizza?   Well, let’s not go there.

When I look back at my childhood, I can’t say I look super fondly upon my food obsessions.   I was a very poor child growing up and so whatever food was around, I had to eat. Although, let me qualify that statement a bit. Although, super poor I was still a bit fussy. I stopped eating meat at an early age and considering how poor I was that was a good thing when it came to the grocery bill. I also did not eat beans which automatically garnered me the label of bad Puerto Rican.   Well, that plus my disdain for avocados. I was a bit fussy.

Although, I gave up eat fairly early on there was one meat dish that I had liked. Now, that I am no longer a vegetarian I occasionally cook this when I want a bit of childhood comfort food. My mom, just like many other Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx, would make corn beef with Hispanic spices such as Sazon and tomato sauce. Add onto that mixture some homemade French Fries and rice. It was a cheap, hearty, and tasty dish. I think of that dish and I remember the zest and glee with which my mom would make and eat it. When she enjoyed a dish she was always so happy and grateful for that warm meal.

It may sound odd but I think moments like that led to me being a “foodie” in the sense that I really enjoy a good meal and just plain old enjoy eating. My love affair with food is so intense that I work out intensely everyday so that I may enjoy food without guilt. So far, so good. I am not a foodie in the gentrified or uppity sense of the word. I know someone who gets offended at being called a “foodie” because she cooked dinner every night. She noted that she cooks all her dishes not because she is a foodie (as she was referred to) but because she had to.

Anyway, I do not need to eat kale at a four-star restaurant. On a side note did you watch the recent Supernatural episode where Dean disgustingly asks what is kale? It was funny. I do not need to eat a magnificent pie made with goji berry. Nor do I have to do all my shopping at Whole Foods. I actually never go there.

When I lived in Berkeley many years ago, I would shop at a store called Grocery Outlet that was so much fun. We enjoyed going there on a weekly basis and seeing what was the latest “import.” One week they had the best trout pâté and the next they had the best chicken adobe burrito.   We would try all sorts of new foods out and all sorts of varied cuisines. It didn’t matter that the labels were crooked and had quickly-approaching expiration dates.   We loved exploring the foods and that is what makes one a true foodie, I believe.   That and just a general enjoyment of sitting down and taking sometime out of one’s crazy schedule to eat.   Yes, my mom although super poor and a love of corned beef hash homestyle, was a foodie in her own style.   Nowadays, the more “foodie” version would entail sweet potato and some elaborately–cooked poached egg.

Now, there was another food that I loved that I believe most other people would look at quizzically and that was yellow cornmeal. It was cheap, hearty and could be tasty. I loved putting cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg. It is truly an odd concoction. Nowadays, the more “foodie” version would be polenta.

Whatever floats your boat and makes you food happy.  For now, pizza makes my son happy and that may never change. Will not make him any less a “foodie.”

5 replies »

  1. yum! I love polenta, which is like cornmeal. My mom would serve it with pan seared chicken, in a butter and rosemary saute. The saute would be poured over the polenta. I can almost taste it now.


  2. Loved your essay on foods, foodies, pizza, cornmeal, etc., Mimi. To me, all food is comfort food. I love it all. My husband Bob, was a good cook – not gourmet – but took pride in all the various dishes he prepared for the two of us and for our dinner company on occasion. In particular, he loved soup. I was speaking to my granddaughter about Bob’s soups just today. He made a big 12 quart pot of whatever soup he decided to make, and I used up all my plastic containers to save the rest in the freezer. He made several different soups, but his (and mine) was his Swedish Pea Soup. It had a taste like I never had before and I do believe the secret ingredient was dill weed – not too much or it would be overpowering. He used yellow split peas, and chopped up all his veggies real fine. It was delish!!


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