Culture

A History Of Ropa Vieja, One Of Cuba’s Most Famous (And Forbidden) National Dishes

On a cold winter day, what is better than coming home to a huge bowl of Cuban ropa vieja? If you’ve ever had this delicious dish, you know how hearty and nutritious it is: more than a simple meat stew, ropa vieja is the bread and butter of Cuban cuisine, offering some serious nutrition for the body and soul. Made with shredded beef, onions, peppers, and salsa de tomate, it sounds simple, but it’s got a complex and multilayered history that is sure to make your mouth water.

Ropa vieja is widely regarded as a Cuban national dish, though it is popular all throughout the Caribbean.

Credit: Pinterest

As is the case with most things food and beverage, it’s difficult to trace the exact origins of ropa vieja—with its strikingly simple and straightforward ingredients, one might argue that ropa vieja is just a clever term for a basic meal. The name “ropa vieja” translates to “old clothes,” and legend has it that a poor old man once shredded and cooked the clothes off his back in order to feed his hungry family. As the clothes simmered away, the man prayed, and they transformed into a meal of meat and vegetables that would cure his family’s hunger. Of course, this is a slightly fantastical origin story, though ropa vieja—with its salt-of-the earth ingredients—is definitely the kind of dish that would support a working man’s lifestyle.

Although Cuba’s identity is undeniably entwined with ropa vieja, the dish actually originated in the Canary Islands of Spain, dating back to the Middle Ages. Colonization brought several Spanish influences to the Americas, and ropa vieja was one such thing—however, the earliest documentation of ropa vieja‘s presence in Cuba did not appear until 1857, in a cookbook titled Nuevo Manual del Cocinero Cubano y Español. But another indication that ropa vieja originated in Spain is its presence in Filipino cuisine (the Philippines were also a Spanish colony).

Of course, in addition to Cuba, ropa vieja started to emerge in other parts of the Caribbean (and eventually throughout Latin America), with each country creating its own characteristic version.

Credit: Pinterest

Unlike the Canarian version, which is highly savory, Cuba’s version has a sort of sweet undertone, which is usually achieved through the use of bell peppers (sometimes sugar is even added to ensure the proper amount of sweetness). In the Philippines, ropa vieja is usually enhanced with fish sauce and served with white jasmine rice. It’s served in Puerto Rico, Venezuela (where it’s known as pabellon), and Panama. And throughout the Caribbean, ropa vieja is characteristically served with frijoles, arroz, platanos, or all of the above. In the Canary Islands, it’s complemented primarily with garbanzo beans and a hefty serving of potatoes.

Ropa vieja is still a household staple throughout Spain. Back in the day, ropa vieja existed as a way to take advantage of leftovers whenever a Spanish stew—like a garbanzo-based puchero or cocida—was cooked. Puchero was typically made in the morning, and the meat used to flavor the stock would be turning to shreds by the time lunch came around. Cooks would strain the meat from the soup and saute it with a sofrito base of onions, peppers, garlic, tomato paste, and other seasonings. Then, garbanzo beans from the soup were then added to the meat and voila! Ropa vieja. And even though the quality of life in contemporary Spain doesn’t necessarily require such thrifty approaches to cooking, people often still prepare extra meat so that they can make ropa vieja the following day.

Unfortunately, ropa vieja is not nearly as common in Cuban kitchens as it once was, as beef is heavily restricted by the government.

“Ropa vieja, and beef in general, are meals reserved for the rich and tourists, two words that may as well be in interchangeable in a country with an average monthly salary of about $20,” Eli Francovich wrote in an article for AP News. “What tourists eat in Cuban restaurants and homes is very different than what the average Cuban eats, he said. The vegetables and meats served to foreigners aren’t available in the stores where normal Cubans shop.”

In 1963, Fidel Castro and the Cuban government made it illegal for Cubans to eat or sell their own cattle—in order to do so, they must first get permission from the state. The law started out as a temporary solution to a 20% deficit in the nation’s cows from unsuccessful cross-breeding and a series of natural disasters. The law aimed to restore the nation’s herds to pre-revolution levels when there was roughly one cow for each person. 

The law didn’t work, though. As of 2015, there were 30% fewer Cuban cattle than in 1958. And today, Cubans are still suffering from this de facto state monopoly.

So, the next time you indulge in a plate of ropa vieja, try to acknowledge what a privilege it is to enjoy this dish. Que aproveches!

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Chicago’s Mi Tocaya Is Offering Up Free Mexican Homemeals For Undocumented Community

Culture

Chicago’s Mi Tocaya Is Offering Up Free Mexican Homemeals For Undocumented Community

mitocaya / Instagram

Undocumented communities are being left out of Covid relief plans. Chef Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya in Chicago is working to help undocumented restaurant worker in the time of Covid. Abuse of undocumented workers is rampant in certain industries and Chef Dávila hopes to offer some kind of help.

Mi Tocaya is a Mexican restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square that wants to help the community.

Covid-19 has devastated the hospitality industry with restaurants being hit exceptionally hard. Restaurants have been forced to close their doors for good as the virus dragged on with no decent relief plan from the federal government. As several countries financially support citizens to avoid economic disaster, the U.S. government has given citizens $1,800 total to cover 10 months of isolating and business closures.

Namely, Mi Tocaya is working to help the undocumented community.

Mi Tocaya, a family-run restaurant, is teaming up with Chicago’s Top Chefs and local non-profits Dishroulette Kitchen and Logan Square Neighborhood Association. The goal is to highlight the issues facing the undocumented community during the pandemic.

The initiative called Todos Ponen, is all about uplifting members of our community in a time of severe need. The restaurant is creating healthy Mexican family meals for those in need.

”We asked ourselves; How can we keep our doors open, provide a true service to the community, maintain and create jobs, and keep the supply chain intact by supporting local farmers and vendors. This is the answer,” Chef Dávila said in a statement. “I confidently believe The TODOS PONEN Logan Square Project addresses all of the above and can very well be easily implemented in any community. Our goal is to bring awareness to the lack of resources available to the undocumented workforce- the backbone of our industry.”

The initiative starts in February.

Mi Tocaya is offering 1000 free meals for local farmers and undocumented restaurant workers. The meals are available for pickup Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647. to make this happen, Mi Tocaya also needs your help.

The restaurant has teamed up with two nonprofits to make sure that they can scale their operation to fulfill their commitment. They are also asking for donations to make sure they can do what they can to help undocumented restaurant workers.

According to Eater LA, 8 million restaurant workers have been laid off since the pandemic started. Some restaurants have had to lay off up to 91 percent of their staff because of Covid, about 10 percent of those are undocumented. In the cities, that number is as high as 40 percent of the laid-off restaurant staff are undocumented.

“People don’t want to talk about the undocumented workforce, but they’re part of our daily routine in most restaurants,” Jackson Flores, who manages the operations of Mi Tocaya, said in a statement. “They are in the toughest position in the whole economy because they’re an invisible part of it. Restaurant worker advocacy groups have added the creation of relief funds to their agendas, but there have yet to be long-term changes in protections for undocumented workers. Without access to unemployment benefits and other government resources, this group is especially vulnerable.”

READ: Hands-Free Cholula Dispensers Have Become a Thing In Restaurants Because of COVID-19

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From TV-less Weekdays To Cereal Bowls, People Are Sharing The Strangest House Rules

Culture

From TV-less Weekdays To Cereal Bowls, People Are Sharing The Strangest House Rules

James Leynse / Getty

If you’ve ever spent the night at someone else’s home, you know that there are people in the world who have house rules that can be very different from your own. From rules about drinking all of your milk cereal to not raising the volume of the television to a hearable level, different households have them all. Now, some of these crazy house rules are being shared in the comments section of an AskReddit. Not only are some of the stories and rules shared wild, some are also even a little sickening.

Check them out below!

“I had a friend who instead of washing the dishes after a meal just put them straight back in the cupboard. I thought his parents would freak out but it turns out it was just something they did in their house. Whenever I went over I always made sure to eat beforehand.” Reddit User

“Family who babysat me when I was young had a rule of “no drinking during meals” and I don’t just mean soda, juice or milk, no water until your meal is done. This was insane to me because we would be called in to supper/lunch after playing outside in the summer and weren’t allowed to drink anything until we sat down and finished our plates. Also, this rule didn’t apply to the father of the family who would often drink beer during meals.

My great-aunt had a parlor room in which all the furniture was covered in plastic and never used, it also had a plastic walkway going through the middle (just a strip of plastic cover) which was the only path you could walk on (she would flip out if you touched carpet).” –Random_White_Guy

“I wasn’t allowed to put extra salt on my food, had to be in bed by 8pm (all the way through middle school), and had to ride my bike to school everyday even though my best friends parents offered to take me.” –willwhit87

“No fighting over the heel of the bread. The father once off hand told his oldest children that the heel of a loaf of bread was the best and made them want it instead of the regular pieces. By the time there were 4 kids sometimes fist fights would break out over the heels. Loaves had been opened on both sides, or loaves were a mess because someone reached through the sack and pulled the back heel out. For a while there was a turn system where the heels were promised to a child for each loaf, but that fell apart when one went to summer camp and lost their turn. One time my friend wasted an afternoon waiting for his mother to come home with a fresh loaf of bread instead of going out and playing. I witnessed fist fights over the bread most people throw away.” –DarrenEdwards

“In college I had a friend that lived with his grandparents when he went to school. Before they’d let him leave the house his grandmother would say ‘nothing good happens after midnight’ and he would have to repeat it. If I was there, I would also have to repeat the phrase.” –iownalaptop

“I slept over a friends house in grade school one time. He prepared us a bowl of cereal the next morning for breakfast. Not thinking ANYTHING of my behavior, I didn’t finish the milk. I just never used to. I don’t know.

He was like “You uh…gonna finish that?”

“Uhhh oh…I uh…I don’t think so? Does that matter?”

He panicked. Absolutely panicked. I think he put it down the toilet before his parents came back into the room.

I don’t know what the rule was, exactly, but FINISH YOUR MILK OR DIE would be my guess based on his reaction. I still feel bad about it. I was like 8 and didn’t think.” –soomuchcoffee

“When I was a kid. I spent the night at one of my friends house. And you were allowed to drink a soda like sprite before bed. But you had to stir it till all the carbonation was gone.. Don’t ask me why…” –newvictim

“I had a friend in middle school, and his dad worked for Pepsi. No one was allowed to bring any Coke products into the house. The first time I went there his mom told me I could not come in the house because I had a Dr. Pepper. I thought she was joking and tried to walk in, but stopped me and said that if I don’t throw that in the garbage outside that I would have to leave. They were fucking serious about that shit.” – SlowRunner

“During college years, I used to visit my friend during summer months at his parents’ house, where he lived at that time. They had two odd “house rules” I’ll never forget:

  1. We couldn’t open any window in the house (even the bathroom window) – ever! Even if it was far cooler outside than inside during the summer.
  2. We weren’t allowed to close our bedroom doors at night, so that his parents’ cat could have free access to all rooms at all times. (This made it difficult to sleep, without a breath of air from the windows, and the cat walking over us in bed while trying to sleep.)” –Back2Bach

“I knew this family that would share the same bathwater as a means to cut down on their water bill. So when one person took a bath, they ALL took a bath that day. The waiting list was about 4-5 people deep. From what I understand, a lot of families do this, however, I just couldn’t see myself washing off in someone else’s soapy leftovers =( If that were the case, I got first dibs on getting in the bathtub first lol”- __femme_fatale__

“My ex’s family would throw all their left over food over their balconey instead of putting in the trash can. I asked them why they did that, they replied it keeps bugs away……..and didnt think rotted food right outside their door would bring bugs.” –PimemtoCheese

“I had a friend whose mom required her to sit on the floor. Never a chair, couch, bed, or other piece of furniture. I went to her house once and sat down on her bed and she flipped out, made me get off it and spent several minutes smoothing the sheets to make it look flat again. I think her mom thought “kids are dirty” but the rule was in place even after bathing and wearing clean.” –knitasha

“Went over to a school-mates’s house for dinner when I was in elementary school…his mom cut everyone’s good into little tiny bites before giving you the plate and only let us eat with a spoon… Her oldest daughter apparently choked on something once when she was a teenager and it became a rule…even on hamburger and hotdog night.” –GRZMNKY

“I was doing a project with a classmate at her house and on our way to her house we stopped at a store and picked up some snacks. We did our schoolwork and then just kind of played and messed around while eating those snacks. Then her mom came home and lost her absolute shit about the snacks. It wasn’t so much that we had eaten them, it was because the snacks had crumbs that had contaminated their otherwise purified home.

My friend had to stop everything and vacuum the entire house to get every crumb of snack, then take the nearly empty vacuum bag, the empty snack bags, and the half-empty but “contaminated” bag of kitchen trash outside and ask one of the neighbors if she could put it in their garbage bin because not a crumb of that kind of food was allowed on the property in any form after sunset. My mom picked me up and as I was leaving they were doing some additional purification ritual and my friend was praying for forgiveness for having potentially defiled their home.

Turns out they were 7th Day Adventist and it was against their code or whatever to have leavened foods in their house/property during a certain period of time? I don’t remember the exact details, but I remember it was a pretty big thing about how every crumb had to be removed from the property ASAP.” – alexa-488

“My neighborhood friend and I would hang out almost every day of the summer. We would go out exploring in the woods with a bunch of our friends and would usually come back all muddy and tired. My friend was very nice and would offer me water and food. His parents would take those away from me if they saw me with them saying they were only for their children. He was always allowed to eat at our house yet I’d have to walk back if they started having any type of meal. The worst though was his next door neighbor who had a daughter our age and when we were hanging out we all got muddy (we were 10) the girls mom proceeded to take her daughter and my friend into her house to clean them up and told me I wasn’t allowed to enter and that I could use the hose. Some people just know how to ruin a kid’s self esteem.” –boomsloth

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