Opinion: The comfort of authentic cuisine

Amanda Paniagua is a graduate art history major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Amanda Anastasia Paniagua

While I can only speak to my own experience, it is my hope that those who identify with or who may be interested in trying something outside their own culture find this piece to be helpful and insightful.

Growing up, food was a source of comfort because sometimes it was literally all that we had. When I first started college, I was homesick and certainly missed the comfort of a home-cooked Mexican dish.

I’m sure that this longing for a meal from home is a struggle that many students from diverse backgrounds experience when encountering the food available on campus.

My family and I are close, so close that I often make the three-hour trip to Northwest Ohio to babysit my little siblings in order to give my parents a break on the weekends.

One of the things I love most about going home is getting the chance to eat some home- cooked food. Whether it’s my mom’s slow- cooked pinto beans and tortillas de harina or my grandma’s boiled cactus, there is always something delicious to enjoy in the company of family.

In the most obscure, rural parts of the country, it is not unusual to find a number of Mexican-owned restaurants offering a wide variety of dishes. If you ask me which one in Kent and surrounding areas reminds me most of home, I’d say El Campesino in Stow. In particular, the chorizo con pollo packs all the flavor I am used to in my own mother’s dishes.

Back in Northwest Ohio, there are numerous Mexican-owned restaurants similar to El Campesino, and my family and I will often make special trips to dine at them, partly because it’s important to support local businesses, and partly because my mom enjoys dishes prepared by a different hand.

El Zarape in Bowling Green offers my mom’s favorite: sopa azteca, which comes complete with freshly sliced aguacate.

San Marcos in Toledo prepares tacos in a way that I can’t quite describe but can only say is an experience. The restaurant is adjacent to the tienda, offering imported items from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

By asking around, I have found an analog to San Marcos in Cleveland. La Plaza has a small counter that serves fresh tacos and burritos complete with arroz y frijoles for a modest price. There is also a bakery, which means you can stock up on pan dulce. It is a full-on tienda offering a variety of Latin American and Mexican brands.

When I saw a concha on the cooling rack in the bakery section at La Plaza, I couldn’t help but smile. In a time when a candidate vying for the highest office in the nation is calling your people a slew of pejoratives I don’t care to repeat, something that connects you proudly with your heritage — even something as simple as food — can only make your heart swell up with joy. 

Amanda Anastasia Paniagua is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]