Recipe from the book: Arroz con Pollo Recipe
Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home
I'm a big proponent of food memoirs.  I'll read anything by someone with a knowledge of food and cooking and an interesting life.  Nothing goes better with detailed memories than a tasty dish served in a memorable way.  When I picked up Tastes Like Cuba, I was excited by the prospect of reading about a country that has long been forbidden to Americans, a land of rumor and suspicion.  I was hoping for a juicy read, full of resistance to Castro, a tragic flight to America, a difficult period of settling in, all made easier by the spice and fire of the island the author called home.
The first half of the book definitely delivered.  We get a stunning description of Cuba, pre-Castro.  The palm trees, the fish pulled fresh from the ocean, the cane sugar drinks in the hot summer sun.  Mr. Machado obviously drank in his Cuban childhood, and he pours it out for us to live through, although vicariously.  Even his description of the Revolution is moving, and you're biting your nails as he is sent on a Peter Pan flight to the US, the only option most Cuban parents thought they had.  As he lands in the US, even his simple meals of U.Ss standards are moving and remind all of us what growing up in the â€˜60s was like.
The best part of the book is probably his description of how his family struggled to settle in California after his parents were finally able to escape Cuba.  They search the area for the traditional Cuban foods that they miss, but the local Latino market is only able to provide some of the staples of Cuban life.  The frustration of his mother and the whole family is palpable as they struggle to keep their Cuban identity intact despite losing the foods that define them.
Unfortunately, about halfway through the book, Mr. Machado completely loses his direction, forgetting his culinary journey for a tedious discussion of his aspirations to become an actor, his relationship with a woman more than twice his age, his beginnings as a playwright, his subsequent nervous breakdown, and his move to film.  In another book this might be helpful, interesting, and moving, but in a book about Cuban traditions, with appropriately matched recipes following each chapter, Mr. Machado loses his reader in a mire of self-doubt and personal destruction.  We, as readers, don't feel for him, because his actions are his own decision: his severance of ties to most of his family, his display of deep family secrets in public plays, his abandonment of Cuban culture and food tradition.  Though he does return to Cuba, we have already lost interest.  The thread of the story has been dropped.  And the recipes following each chapter seem inappropriate and hasty, at one point becoming just alcoholic drinks.
Maybe Mr. Machado meant for this change to take place.  Maybe the turn from rich imagery to self-involved monologue represents the break from the tradition of his culture, the loss of the passion and fire of his childhood.  Maybe the thoughtless recipes in this section represent his misdirected life, were actually purposely chosen.  But whether pre-planned or not, the book suffers from this section, and the narrative only recovers at the end.
The recipes from the book are gold, and it makes you wish Mr. Machado had lingered over these exotic specialties.  Most of the recipes are taken from family members, but as the book continues, Mr. Machado's influence begins to be felt.  His grandfather's arroz con pollo is a spectacular creamy entrée, and the secret ingredient of cream of asparagus soup adds an earthiness the dish otherwise lacks.  Another highlight is Gladys's Garlic Chicken.  The chicken is tangy and fresh, and it makes you wonder how much more stunning Gladys's true recipe is.  The drink recipes Mr. Machado includes, while seeming like a cop-out in the middle chapters, are actually refreshing, bringing a tropical flare to an evening at home.  One word of warning: while the recipes are relatively simple, finding some of the Latin ingredients may be difficult in communities without a significant Latin influence.
As a cookbook, Tastes Like Cuba doesn't have enough recipes to warrant its purchase on that merit alone.  As a memoir, the book also suffers from the self-absorption of the writer.  But in the last analysis, the book is an interesting ride.
Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home
|Dewey Decimal Number||920|
|Number Of Items||1|
|Number Of Pages||368|
|Product Type Name||ABIS_BOOK|
|Title||Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home|
|Feature||Notes: Brand New from Publisher. No Remainder Mark.|