Latin Cuisine: A Gastronomical Adventure on Long Island
By Andrea Navarro
Latin gastronomy, which has exploded across the East End with all its glorious flavors, has been passed down through generations, with diverse, exotic and well-seasoned cuisine that is also healthy and nutritious. Over time, Latin cuisine has captivated the palate of East End diners with plates that are now part of our daily life. The love and passion infused in Latin cuisine is without a doubt the reason for its success, and that love is clearly here to stay.
The Latin culinary boom arrived, conquered and changed the United States. Through a study titled “The Hispanic Influence on American Culture” conducted by the Latin marketing agency Conill, 90% of Americans consider food to be the most influential aspect of Latin culture. The Latin food industry, the study found, generates almost $10 billion a year.
From Riverhead to Montauk, the “delicatessen,” or the Latin “delicates,” signifies delicate, delicious or fine. In the United States they are known as delis, but in Latin culture, the delicatessen is meant to be a warm market where flavors, aroma and hospitality make the difference, where you can feel Caribbean and Cumbia music convert the markets into artistic atmospheres.
An extended menu of fresh food ready to serve is popularly recognized as “home food” and is categorized as part of the culture on Long Island; this gastronomy is without a doubt what gets awards, and conquers the palates and hearts and tables of a legion of consumers. A great variety of typical plates like traditional beans in all their assortments, rice, corn and avocado are a part of this festive culinary tradition.
Latin cuisine is known to reinvent itself to seduce and fascinate its consumers, the character of flavors most often a magical mixture of onions, peppers, chillies, cilantro and garlic. Most dishes are intended to bring home to share with family or friends, and with that in mind we traveled to a few famous “delis” that are the pioneers of these creations that today have multiplied across the Hamptons.
Luz Marina, the owner of La Chiquita Latina in East Hampton, shared with us.
“It all started by filling a necessity and a vacancy of our land in this part of the island where it was nowhere to be found, going back to a style of life, to ‘Eat Latin,’ which is also associated with eating fresh and sophisticated food. La Chiquita is famous for its empanadas, warm beans, grilled beef, rice, plantains, fried pork and Mexican burritos.
“Everything was a process,” Marina continued. “Introducing products to the East End that weren’t known because of the difficulty in transporting them here. It has been a process to educate so our customers know the products, and in a short time it stayed within the community.”
In Bridgehampton is Mickeys B’s, located just north of Montauk Highway on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, where we encounter Roberto Martola, who for 20 years has dedicated his life to preparing food and achieving a good product and service for his clients. The deli is impeccable on our visit. You can savor a delicious Mexican quesadilla with cheese, chicken, beef or sausage; a delicious chicken soup, beef stew or some good Mexican tamales with pork; a hot chocolate coming from a base of chocolate bars and hot milk or a nutritious oatmeal and a popular dish of sautéed steaks and cheeses.
“The people prefer us because we are generous with our portions,” Martola said. “This is a legacy that has marked a difference for us.”
In the kitchen we find women from the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Guatemala who start their day at six in the morning and work until three in the afternoon, and are satisfied with what they have accomplished.
With a variety of menus we finish with Chicken Spot on North Sea Road in Southampton. Isabelle Guillen, the Ecuadorian owner, receives us at her market, which has been made famous with their popular grilled beef and vegetables, salad and beans, chicken stew, pork stew and fish that diners have loved. Guillen followed a legacy from her family from Ecuador, and her road through the food business has included an innovation of different flavors, leading to fresh and healthy food. Her business has run for 14 years and has been sustained by her strength and a push forward from her family, which has not forgotten its roots.
Latin American cuisine has particularly strong roots with a fascinating history, where you can feel the tradition that has taken root on Long Island. The cuisine is the result of a mixture of elements — ethnic, social and cultural heritages that are all a part of our American continent. The food is a combination of experiences, customs, tastes, products and flavors from the soul that generate a true explosions of flavors and emotions.
In Latin America, each town has its own rich culinary characteristic, and food from the pre-Columbian era was sent abroad by conquistadors, colonizers and immigrants. Latin cuisine came from fascinating lands, full of rich elements in flavor, textures, colors and aromas. It has captivated our palates and today occupies an important place for the citizens of Long Island and the rest of the world.