by Carlos C. Olaechea
Student Carlos C. Olaechea recounts the Gastronomy Students Association’s tour of Latino eateries in East Boston
Part of the draw to Boston University’s Gastronomy Program is being surrounded by Boston’s vibrant food scene. From the ever growing list of fine dining establishments to the omnipresent farmers markets showcasing the rich variety of local products, good food seems to be all around in this town. Boston also has its own food culture to offer newcomers, like myself, in the form of lobster rolls, clam chowder, oysters, and apple cider, just to name a few.
Additionally, the city’s immigrant populations have added a great deal to Boston’s culinary landscape: pizza and cannoli in the North End, a wealth of Irish pubs, dim sum in Chinatown, Korean food in Allston, and many more. Last Friday, the Gastronomy Students Association explored different Latin American cuisines in East Boston as part of the GSA’s Eastie Food Crawl.
Participants met at the Wood Island Blue Line T station and walked down Bennington street to the first stop, a Peruvian grocery and ice cream/shaved ice spot called Frio Rico. While perusing the shelves laden with chile pastes, herbs, dried beans, and grains, we sampled house made lúcuma ice cream. Native to Peru, the lúcuma fruit has been described as having a flavor reminiscent of sweet potato and maple syrup, butterscotch, or persimmon. While gastronomy students couldn’t quite put their finger on the flavor, they all enjoyed the cold treat. Student Alex Cheser took advantage of the store’s selection of condiments and purchased a jar of ají amarillo chile paste, a staple in many Peruvian dishes.
The next stop was Tu Metapan, a casual Salvadoran restaurant. Some students enjoyed Mexican Coca Cola, packaged in glass bottles and made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, and everyone tried sips of marañon juice, made from cashew fruit and having a light, apple-like flavor. We enjoyed a small sampling of Salvadoran snacks, including what many consider to be the hallmark of the cuisine, pupusas. The popular snack is made of nixtamalized corn dough – or masa – stuffed with a variety of fillings, flattened to quarter inch thick disks, and then griddled. We opted for fillings of beans and cheese, as well as cheese and loroco, the buds of an edible vine that is native to El Salvador. Another native plant, chipilín, was mixed in the soft cornmeal dough of tamales that encased a smooth filling of refried beans.
For a little added protein, we ordered a plate of Salvadoran chicharrones. Usually referring to fried pork rinds in other Latin American countries, the Salvadoran version consisted of chunks of crispy fried pork with some fatty pieces that melted in our mouths. A vinegary cabbage slaw called curtido, which was served from a communal plastic jar, cut the richness, as well as spicy pickled vegetables and a tomato based dressing. Having experienced Salvadoran cuisine before, Alex Cheser ordered a tall glass of hot atole – a thick, sweet corn drink – for all of us to sample.
After thanking our waitress at Tu Metapan, we strolled over to La Chiva, a late night Colombian fast food eatery that is open until 3:00 AM. Knowing that we had one more stop on our food crawl, we ordered just a few small snacks to share from the vitrine of tantalizing fritters, sausages, and other savories. Along with sampling a mora juice made with aromatic Andean blackberries, we tried some small beef and potato turnovers called empanadas made with cornmeal dough – a unique feature found only in the empanadas of Colombia and Venezuela. Along with the fried turnovers, we ordered a pan de queso and an almojábana, two variations on cheesy bread made with cassava flour.
Our last stop for the evening was for Peruvian rotisserie chicken at Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan, whose logo had a chicken dressed as a Peruvian cowboy, or chalan. We enjoyed some of Peru’s national soda, Inca Kola, which is the only soft drink that beats Coca Cola in any country. The notes of lemon verbena and vanilla of the golden hued drink were a refreshing compliment to juicy, seasoned rotisserie chicken, crunchy French fries and fried yucca sticks, and spicy dipping sauces. Being that rotisserie chicken is to Peruvians what Pizza is to Americans, it should come as no surprise that El Chalan is open until 2:00 AM every night.
Along with tasting a few of the diverse cuisines of Latin America, we were able to see how neighborhoods change over time as new waves of immigrants arrive in a neighborhood. Amidst the Latino restaurants, taquerías, and bodegas we passed, we also noticed several Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, and markets, including the oldest Italian restaurant in Boston, Jeveli’s. It was interesting to note how many different Latin American nationalities, as well as an older Italian-American community, coexist in the same neighborhood, making for a culturally rich – and very delicious – experience.