Teresita Aviles Bailey, Development and Membership Associate, Chicago Cultural Alliance
Taste from Home is a collection of recipes and stories inspired by the food that defines who we are and where we come from. As we are all home exploring new recipes and cuisines, we encourage you to share a recipe and story with us that connects you to your family and cultural heritage.
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Who taught you this recipe/how did you learn it?
I would love to say my mom taught me, since she is one of the best cooks in the family. However, she doesn’t measure things so as a teenager I never bothered to watch her and learn. So instead it is with great fun that I say that it was my American boyfriend (who is now my husband) taught me how to cook this traditional Nicaraguan dish. During my undergrad at Purdue I couldn’t afford to go home to Nicaragua and I was feeling quite homesick for one of my birthdays. He surprised me by cooking gallo pinto, although he was apologizing because he had burnt some of it. Little did he know that that was how my grandma (my Meme) would cook it. She would leave it on stove top on low while she did other things stirring it occasionally until it was nice and crispy. Now in our home, we serve it two different versions, a soft version for my husband and a crispy version for me.
When do you normally eat this dish? Is it for a holiday or celebration?
Gallo Pinto is a staple meal and you will find it in every Nicaraguan household at any time of the day alone or as a side. It is not uncommon to eat it for breakfast with eggs, cheese, and CORN tortillas, for lunch with cabbage salad and some type meat, and then again for dinner with a churrasco and plantains or more tortillas. Pre-pandemic, I would cook it maybe once a month or every couple of months because it takes while to get it just right. Since the quarantine however, I’ve developed the habit of making a big pot of beans and keep some in the freezer to make a big batch of gallo pinto to eat throughout the week. My husband loves it and will eat everyday given the chance.
What culture/country is this recipe from?
Nicaragua, however, it is a very common dish throughout Latin America with a few variations of beans (black beans vs. red) or different kinds of oil depending on the region and personal touches from each family (My family- A LOT of garlic). On the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica for example, it is cooked with coconut oil which gives it a different flavor. In El Salvador it is called “casamiento” or “casados”. We all like to claim the dish as our own-which can lead to very heated debates- so before I get angry messages from family and friends: “El Gallo Pinto es Nica!”.
Why is it important to you?
It is quite simply a Taste From Home. It is a dish that reminds me of my family, friends, and my life in Nicaragua. It bring me joy and it is very comforting. My family is spread out around the world due to the Civil War during the 80’s but I am certain that they all cook this dish to remind them of home.