Essays

Raquel Roque on Latinx Food and Community

The acclaimed Cuban American chef shares her favorite dishes and books

Raquel Roque Essay
By Raquel Roque

Raquel Roque is a bookseller, chef, and owner of the Downtown Book Center in Miami. She loves collecting Cuban recipes from her family, friends, and leaders of her community.

LatinX? What is this new word all about?  Is it just a word?  Is it a movement?  Is it a whole new generation?  Are we cooking LatinX?  

LatinX as a word is gender inclusive. I always thought it was confusing that in the Spanish language even inanimate objects have gender. It is hard for bilinguals, like myself, to figure out which pronoun to use: la, las, lo, los. LatinX is gender inclusive as a premise and as a promise. LatinX is all inclusive. Yes, all of us, mi gente! We know words have power and LatinX gives us that power as a people. That is important.  

¡Hola!  My name is Raquel Roque, bookseller and author of cookbooks both in English and Spanish. I am also a mom, an abuela and an activist at heart. Since arriving from Cuba over 50 years ago, I have lived in Miami, a city where countless cultures successfully coexist. Over many years my passion for books and food has taken me on explorations of new fusion cuisines, old recipes, and so many stories that tug at your heart.  Far away from our country of origin, but never far from our customs and traditions, we teach the new generation that those dishes that we learned to eat at home, prepared with love by our mothers and grandmothers, nourish us in body and soul because they are literally in our DNA.  At the same time we must acknowledge that for us to evolve we must look to this beautiful new LatinX generation of chefs and foodies for recipes and vision because really cool things are organically occurring: fusions, showmanship, veganism and sustainability.  

Let me also confess in this essay about my obsession with Nitza Villapol, the legendary and iconic Cuban celebrity chef, the Julia Child of Cuba.  Her book Cocina al minuto (Cooking Minute by Minute) was a classic bestseller, and her TV show with the same name ran for 50 years, first airing in 1948 and last airing in 1997.  Born in New York City in 1923 to Cuban immigrants, she was Americana, a cultural hybrid.  Nitza was stricken with polio at an early age and by the time she was eleven, her parents took her back to Cuba and also took back with them the American way of life.  She went on to study nutrition at Oxford University in wartime London where she became well versed in frugal recipes, a skill she perfected decades later and passed on to Cubans on the island who had to deal with rations and food shortages. Nitza is one of the earliest LatinX chef and cookbook authors.

LatinX narrates our heritage without boundaries.  LatinX is multiracial and multiethnic.  Do you know that we are talking about at least 20 different countries of Hispanic origin and numerous indigenous populations living right here in the United States?  In all our communities we are cooking and transforming.  We are going forward to create recipes that are healthy; healthy doesn’t have to be expensive.  LatinX is in the house. So join me as we celebrate, cook, and transform recipes and our communities.  What we eat and what we feed our next generation matters!

So give these LatinX treasures a taste!

  • Horchata (Costa Rica)
  • Gallo pinto (Nicaragua) 
  • Gorditas (Mexico)  
  • Arroz con gandules (Puerto Rico) 
  • Leche asada (Bolivia)     
  • Bandeja paisa (Colombia) 
  • Congri and moros (Cuba) 
  • Pupusa (El Salvador)
  • Baleadas (Honduras)
  • Fufu, mangú, and mofongo (Dominican Republic, Haiti and West Africa)  
  • Arepas (Colombia and Venezuela)
  • Paella (Spain)
  • Ceviches (Peru, Panama and Ecuador)
  • Asados (Uruguay, Argentina and Chile)
  • Polenta (Paraguay)
  • Pepián beef stew (Guatemala)

Look up these forever fresh LatinX voices!

  • Author and Theology professor Carlos EireWaiting for Snow in Havana
  • Chef and Food Network TV host – Aaron Sanchez
  • Author and journalist Paola RamosFinding LatinX 
  • Author Jaquira Díaz – Ordinary Girls
  • Author Sandra CisnerosThe House on Mango Street
  • Author Laura EsquivelLike Water for Chocolate
  • Chef Eileen Andrade – Finka Tap and Table
  • Chef Javier Plascencia – The Soul of Baja
  • Founder José Andrés – World Central Kitchen
  • Author John Rechy – City of Night
  • Author Esmeralda SantiagoWhen I Was Puerto Rican
  • Author Isabel AllendeThe House of the Spirits and many more

Celebrate LatinX Heritage Month every day.

Check out more of Raquel Roque‘s cookbooks below!

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Cocina Latina by Raquel Roque
Cocina Latina
By Raquel Roque
Paperback $20.00
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Cocina cubana by Raquel Roque
Cocina cubana
By Raquel Roque
Paperback $15.95
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