Ask a Cuban-American for a traditional family recipe and you’ll find a common source of laughter. After all, years of training as tiny sous chefs to our abuelas and mamas have taught us that Cuban food (largely considered a peasant cuisine in the culinary world,) is first and foremost about learning to adjust for which ingredients one might have on hand, as well as the preferences of who is cooking and eating. In fact, it seems that if there has ever been a rule to follow precisely when it comes to cooking a Cuban dish, it is to have a grasp of the history behind the meal you’re about to serve, as it has had such an influence on your identity. While being encouraged to measure out cups of rice and seasonings for dishes like ropa vieja and Moros y Cristianos by handfuls and finger pinches, young Cuban-Americans learn the essential lessons of their island country’s extensive, and often unexpected, past.
For me, a first generation-American by way of my mother (she fled Cuba along with her parents and siblings during the Revolution,) the most impressionable lesson about our island country’s culture lies in one of my favorite meals: arroz frito, a Cuban classic with Chinese roots.