Before last Thursday I had never experienced Salvadoran food; I am happy to report that situation has been corrected. The Northfield Public Library has been hosting a series of “Cuisine and Culture” evenings for Hispanic Heritage Month. Each Thursday, a community member prepares food from a different Central or South American country, and last week featured El Salvador.
The main offering was pupusas – thick, chewy-in-the-best-way, Salvadoran flatbreads. Pupusas are made of masa (cornmeal dough), stuffed with cheese, beans, or meat, shaped into discs and then cooked on a griddle. They were prepared by Ligia Barrientos with demonstrated care and skill. The pupusas were served with the traditional accompaniment of cabbage slaw and salsa roja. The mix of tastes and textures was ideal material to construct that “one perfect bite” with all three ingredients.
There was also rice pudding and atol de elote – a sweet, creamy Salvadoran beverage made of milk, cinnamon and fresh corn. Upon first sip, it was alarmingly warm and dense, but once my tastebuds were calibrated it was delicious.
The food was followed up by a talk from Carleton Spanish professor Yansi Perez.
Her lecture, “A Cartography of Material Memory of the Central American Diaspora in Los Angeles,” discussed her research on the Salvadoran community that was established in L.A. after they were displaced by the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.
When Perez got up to begin her speech, she asked how many of us did not speak Spanish. Only about a third of the group raised their hands, but she opted to do her presentation in English. Although I was grateful to understand the content, I felt somewhat guilty that even during a time focused on honoring Hispanic heritage, she was making accommodations for non-Spanish speakers.
Her talk focused on the role of memory in the way Salvadorans have had to balance maintaining their culture and identity while also creating a new home in L.A.
The truth within the cliché that food brings people together was on display in the library conference room – a different Carleton professor chatted with a table of St. Olaf students, several generations of Northfield residents mingled and compared reactions to the elote and everyone listened to Perez’s speech with open ears and full stomachs.
There are several more Culture and Cuisine nights at the library this month:
Oct. 10 – Puerto Rican Cuisine, Speaker Kristina Medina
Oct. 17- Mexican Cuisine and Bohemia Night
Oct. 24- Traditional Hispanic desserts, Speaker Sebastian Burset