How holiday gatherings sparked a hunger for food and knowledge

in Arts & Culture/Family & Parenthood by

I vividly recall my maternal grandmother’s holiday meals, with the men in the living room watching the game, and the women scurrying around cooking food and preparing the table.

My aunt made beans and rice, as well as potato salad with boiled eggs sliced on top that I stealthily picked out, while her husband sometimes made nacatamales, a treasured Central American street food made from steamed corncake stuffed with meat and vegetables.


Luckily, his always had more meat in it than vegetables. Usually, Granny fried plantains, and my mom always baked her specialty, pernil, a slow-roasted marinated pork.

Each year was her final year making it, as she complained about the prep work that went into it; each year I told her that the pernil melted in my mouth and tasted better and better than the year before (which was my clumsy way of guilting her into cooking it).

The smell of Goya mixed with paprika, cilantro, basil, oregano, and other delicious seasonings, to provide a savory blend of my holidays growing up: Hondurans celebrating the distinctly American winter holidays, in the “melting pot” of New York City. After stuffing ourselves with food from our homeland at Thanksgiving, we repeated the ritual a month later for Christmas dinner.

Pernil. Photo credit: Yvonne Lee Harijanto

At our holiday gatherings, family members would bring a dish to the home of the person designated to host dinner that year. My mom never hosted because our tiny apartment was barely enough for two of us, let alone several hungry Hondurans.

Again, my mom would complain about slaving over the pernil for hours, and again I would scrape the eggs off my salad without my aunt noticing. For Christmas though, I would sometimes get an extra slice of chocolate cake, which was worth more than anything Santa brought down our invisible chimney.


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