Paola de Varona creates a place for Latinx students at Northwestern to speak candidly in this new NBN podcast, everywhere from our tradiciones favoritas to what it’s like for us to be Latinx at Northwestern. Today, she’s asking, “que pasa con la comida?, or What's up with the food? You can also now hear this, and any NBN Audio podcast, on iTunes! Simply search for North by Northwestern in your Apple Podcasts app and hit subscribe to get a notification whenever a new episode is posted. Transcript below.
Priscilla de Varona: Mami que hay de comer?
Marlen de Varona: Comida, que va ver.
Paola de Varona: The infamous “what’s for dinner” response. Something many of us never thought we’d miss. You see, antes de venir a Northwestern, yo creía que estaba cansada de la comida cubana y hispana. Todo era lo mismo: Arroz y frijoles, ropa vieja de pollo, bistec y platanitos. But you know what they say: you don’t know what you have until it's gone. Or until it's only available during winter and spring breaks. Tanto de la cultura latina, revolves around la comida.
So that’s what we’ll be talking about today. Our crazy family food stories, los platos favoritos hecho en casa, our weird food habits y el cambio when coming to Northwestern’s far-from-fine-dining experience.
Bienvenidos a Dímelo Northwestern. Yo soy Paola de Varona and I’m your host. I’m a journalism student from Miami, whose parents were born in Cuba. This series is a place for Latinx students at Northwestern to speak candidly, everywhere from our tradiciones favoritas to what it’s like for us to be Latinx at Northwestern. Today, I’m asking, “que pasa con la comida?”
Gustavo Paredes: Coming here actually, nobody cooks like my mom. So the freshman fifteen really didn’t apply to me.
Paola: That’s Gustavo Paredes, a sophomore in Medill.
Gustavo: My mom is one of those traditional Mexican mothers who just loves to throw down all the time and she just cooks like we are going to have a feast for every meal of the day. But yeah, every time I do go home, which is at least twice a quarter, I just eat like I've never eaten before.
Paola: Gustavo and I extrañamos ciertas comidas de la casa. And we’re not alone. Hablé con Alani Vargas, a sophomore studying journalism and history.
Alani Vargas: I love when my mom cooks her taco meat and her guacamole, miss her guacamole so much. Because here it's, like, runny. I don't know if you could consider it guacamole. It's literally like green soup and then they dice the tomatoes in there.
Paola: But some of us have had better luck with the dining halls. Gustavo seems to have charmed the Hinman staff.
Gustavo: I was fortunate enough to be really good friends with the cooks at a dining hall. And I remember one day I walked in and they were just like grilling steak and they had like nasty food. They’re Mexican so they just gave me Guac and two pieces of meat and tortillas. And I will always remember that day. All of my friends were eating some really nasty, I don’t know what the hell they were eating, probably just another creation. But not me that day.
Paola de Varona: I’ve found that we all have some pretty strange food habits. Or at least strange by other people's standards. We all do it, whether it’s una cuchara específica para tu helado or the way you like your Sazon Goya packets for seasoning. For me, it was bananas.
Coming from my very Cuban family, bananas are my meal go-to. Heck I even eat them with pizza (ok maybe that one's just weird), but otherwise it’s pretty normal. I just put it on my plate and eat it mixed with the rest of my food.
But to my friends here on campus, that was shocking, and unconventional even. So I’ve set out to find other people's food quirks because I can’t possibly be alone on this one.
Alani: Oh, I can’t use the same utensil for everything. I guess that’s weird.
Paola: What do you mean?
Alani: Like if I eat a meal-meal like I can use the same utensil for all of that, but then if I want to go to dessert or something, like I have to switch my utensil. Also like if my utensil gets cold with the food on it I have to scrape it off, like I won’t eat it. My mom thinks it’s weird too, but I will refuse. She’s like, “you’re wasting food” because there might be food on there but I’m like no but it’s cold so I scrape it off.
Gustavo: I personally just perpetuate that stereotype that every Mexican food has to be really spicy. I love eating spicy food, like when I go to Subway here I have to ask for a side of jalapeños even though I ask for a sub basically full of jalapeños. But I think that just applies to me because my family, they don't eat spicy food.
Paola: Muchas de mis tradiciones y memorias favoritas con mi familia tienen algo en común: la comida. Noche buena y las navidades always involve some sort of feast. Puedo recordar viendo mi abuela cocinando comida para la familia en su apartamento cuando yo era chiquita, especially when she cooked mi ropa vieja favorita. Which at the time I called ropa sucia, not knowing any better. Encontramos communidad with this common denominator, this common language spoken between forks and mouthfuls. Sometimes it even leads to the stories we laugh about years later.
Gustavo: I think it was Christmas and like I said my mom just cooks like there’s no tomorrow. At the time my oldest sister, her fiancée, well now her husband, my brother-in-law, he's black. I remember there wasn't any space to put my mom's pots anymore there was just like, she just had a lot of stuff going on. I remember she had to put like meat to defrost in the bath tub. And my brother-in-law, went inside and he saw like a head, like an animal’s head and he just freaked the hell out. What my mom was making was just such an authentic dish and he eats her food often and he eats everything. But he just freaked the hell out.
Paola: What dish was it?
Gustavo: So my mom was making Birria so she had to she had the kitchen full of like spices and then there was a goat’s head within in a pot just defrosting and that’s what he saw.
Paola: OK, so maybe we all haven’t been woken up on a Sunday morning to a full feast, a house full of family members and even a live band performance – all the while having an essay due the next day. Yes, this is a true story Gustavo told me, you can’t make this up. But, we all have our fair share of crazy historias. Maybe it isn’t the food that brings us together. Tal vez usamos la comida as an excuse to come together and share these memories that have long since become our tradiciones.
Paola: The music in this episode is courtesy of incompetech.com The opening audio is courtesy of my sister and my mom. I’m Paola de Varona, and for NBN Audio, this is Dímelo Northwestern.