Edible History

Growing up in the Central Valley of California, I was surrounded by a culturally diverse population. My friends were mostly children of immigrant parents coming from Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Laotian, Central and South American, European, and Hmong backgrounds. I was always invited to family parties where food was the main guest. My neighborhood was the melting pot of culture and food. It’s hard to talk about one culture without mentioning a traditional dish. Today, when I meet a person from a particular culture I immediately start talking about the food. It’s the best way to make a person feel comfortable and at home.

Now that I’ve made you feel at home, I’m going to talk about the Empanada. It is one of my favorite things to make, eat, and share with others. Every Latin country from Mexico to Argentina make some sort of hand held pastry of flour or corn covering a sweet or savory filling that is baked or deep fried. I was familiar with the sweet empanadas. More like I had a love affair with them. I was the overweight little brown girl staring hopelessly at the baked goods in the Panderia section of Don Juan’s or La Perla Tapatia (Hispanic grocery stores) while my mom picked out the freshest carnitas and tortillas for lunch. There was pumpkin (my favorite), custard, apple, and pineapple. Oh, the decisions!

Empanadas
My Favorite! Pumpkin Empanadas. I make them every year during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

My first time making empanadas was many years ago on the 18th of September (Chilean Independence Day), with one of my best friends and her Chilean family. Having only eaten sweet empanadas, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they made savory meat ones. I realized very quickly not to discriminate against any empanada. We would be making the pino version, which were filled with beef cooked with lots of onions and cumin, hard boiled eggs, olives, and raisins. Some were baked in the oven and others were deep fried (oh my!!!). It took sometime to learn how to stuff and seal the delicious little pastries without them popping or cracking open, but overtime and many 18th of Septembers, I was finally able to make them on my own. It also helped to have my friend’s mom guide me along the way.

empanadas
Getting ready to make empanadas Chilean style!

I like to think of the empanada as a Latin American cultural icon or even as a survival from colonialism. During the conquest of the New World, the Spanish introduced many new food items to the existing cultures, and vice versa, later becoming part of the modern Latin American culinary identity. Since no women were on the initial explorations, I imagine the indigenous women of Mesoamerica being the first makers of what we now know of as the empanada. They combined their local ingredients with the Spanish tradition to create a mestizaje of food, race, and culture. The word empanada comes from the spanish verb ’empanar’ or ‘to coat with bread’ and that’s just what the Spanish did to the New World. The Old World and New World might have had centuries of social, political, and economic struggle, but when it comes to food they mixed incredibly well. The empanada is the edible Latin American cultural icon where you can taste a little bit of history in each bite.

I’m just like the empanada!
Edible History

For the love of food

I like to call the month of August the month of LOVE. Not only is it my birthday month, but it is THE foodie month in the Bay Area! All things that I love come together during this month and make me one happy mama.

To get the festival weekend started I had a little party at my house with yummy food and lovely friends! The menu consisted of Rosemary, Lemon, Garlic Oven Roasted Chicken, a Vegetable Tian, and a Chocolate Decadence Cake! Oh what a birthday it was! Did I mention the delicious wine too.

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Rosemary, Lemon, and Garlic Roasted Chicken

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Vegetable Tian
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My Birthday Cake! A Chocolate Truffle Cake covered with a luxurious Whipped Cream

Then there was the Outside Lands Music Festival, which landed on my birthday weekend! Azalina had a brilliant idea of fusing together Mexican and Malaysian flavors into a nacho dish. Festival goers had the choice between chicken curry nachos or a peanut tofu nacho. They were a hit! Azalina really knows how to combine the flavors of California with her traditional Malaysian flare!

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My Boss. I like to call her the Malaysian Ninja!

La Cocina was a mad house everyday leading up to the SF Street Food Festival. All 32 businesses were pumping out their amazing tasty treats for the one day street food extravaganza. Every kind of food you could think of was being made and prepared by loving hands, all combining the new with the traditional. There were brains, shrimp heads, thousands of pounds of meat, the freshest fruits and veggies from local farmers, hogs, and a whole lot of sweat and tears.

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My Boss Azalina making 1,600 Vegan Peanut Tofu Tacos for the SF Street Food Festival!
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Our stall at La Cocina’s 4th Annual Street Food Festival! It was a blast, but a blur!
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The Vegan Tacos and Chicken Nachos were a flavor explosion in your mouth! Mexican food goes with everything!

For the love of food

Spice up your life!

My name is Vanessa and I love food. Not only do I love food, but I love photographing it, feeding people, and talking about it too! I currently live in Berkeley, CA and am studying Anthropology at CAL. When I’m not being a full-time student, I’m busy being a full-time mom and a part-time street food vendor for Azalina’s Malaysian (Check us out every Friday at the Fort Mason Off the Grid).

Working for Azalina at the San Francisco Street Food Festival

My passion for food started at a young age while making tamales with my family during the holidays and going to the taco trucks in my hometown of Modesto, CA. I was the kid in the kitchen asking twenty questions about everything and always made sure I was the first to eat! Oh, did I mention that I love to eat too!

Living in the food capital of California means that I get to release my inner foodie and explore the diversity of foods in the area. And let me tell you, there is SO much good food to be eaten! I’m an avid home baker and love to bake delicious treats for my friends and family.

You’re probably thinking why did I name my blog The Edible Anthropologist…Well, food and culture go hand in hand. Food is the one language everyone knows. It crosses borders, cultures, race, and class. We all need food. It tells a story of our evolution as a species, it’s something to fight about, it brings people together, heck we even blog about it too!

The Edible Anthropologist

I want to share with you my love for food. With this blog I hope to tell you a story of food. An Anthropology of food by the Edible Anthropologist.

Spice up your life!