Migrant cuisine: 100 grams of passion and a sprinkle of instinct

25 May 2018

 width=There will be a large number of communities taking part in the 2018 Migranti Film Festival, from India, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Romania, Morocco, Mexico, Nigeria, and Senegal. Aprons and cutlery at the ready, we will all share traditional recipes and what we know about where they come from. Let’s get to know some of the people whom we will meet in Pollenzo during the four days of the festival.

Bright eyes, a kind smile, and a slight Piedmontese inflection on a stronger Hispanic accent: This is Maria, originally from the Dominican Republic, who has been living in Bra for over 10 years. This year she, along with her husband, will take part in the second edition of the Migranti Film Festival in Pollenzo, cooking her signature dish, “rice, beans, and meat,” and sharing stories about herself and her country.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your story

My name is Maria and I’m originally from the Dominican Republic, but I’ve been living in Bra for nearly 13 years now. I love Italy, just like I love my country, even though I had to leave it quite early on in life. In the Dominican Republic there’s a lot of poverty, and where there is poverty there is crime. I had to leave to make sure my children got an education and a chance to live in a calm, clean, and safe environment. I’m currently working part-time as a cleaner for a Piedmontese family but my real passion is cooking, a passion that began very early on in life. I met my husband through cooking and together as a family we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Our house is very small and everything revolves around the cooker.

  1. Is there a connection between Dominican recipes and recipes you have picked up whilst living here in Piedmont?

Luckily, the ingredients in traditional Dominican dishes I used to eat and cook with I can find here, as they’re imported all over Europe. At home I usually cook rice but I also cook pasta. Italian cuisine is very healthy and I usually cook vegetables, or meat or fish with rice. Thanks to my job, as well as Italian dishes, I have also learned to cook simple recipes from Piedmont, such as bagnetto verde, that I love preparing following the traditional recipe. I also like to prepare the typical Piedmontese salsa tonnata with garlic, capers, anchovies, tuna, and a touch of extra virgin olive oil. I never cook anything processed; I like buying all the ingredients and putting them all together one by one.

  1. Can you give us some examples of typical Dominican dishes and tell us the ones you will be bringing to the Migranti Film Festival?

There are a wide range of Dominican traditional dishes that I often make here in Italy, starting with the typical pica pollo, fried chicken, a very popular and accessible dish. I also like making pudìn de pan, which is made with stale bread, softened using milk, served with raisins and grated ginger. The dish I’ll be bringing to the Migranti Film Festival is the famous “rice, beans, and meat.” I make it—well, my husband makes it—four times a week. It’s a simple and delicious recipe that I make using ingredients I can find in Italy, like borlotti beans and Roma rice. In my country, beans are nicknamed “the meat of the poor.” In the Dominican Republic we have them all year round and I have fond memories of the enormous pans of vegetables, potatoes, manioc, and plantain.

  1. As well as your typical dish, is there a message you would like to bring to the Migranti Film Festival?

I would like to bring the flavor and tradition of my country, that I’m extremely proud of. I want to represent it, talk about it, and show off the Dominican flag, which, at the center, has the words “Dios, Patrias y Libertad” (God, Honor, and Freedom). It will be the first time I’ve been to the festival and I’ll be cooking on the hob with my husband. He loves cooking, maybe even more than I do. I think the festival could highlight a very important aspect: Food represents a relationship with a new destination. Through food we spread knowledge and we experiment. Where I’m from we say that Dominicans dance because we have rhythm in our blood and when you think about it, this isn’t so different from the act of cooking. Passion is essential for cooking, just like dancing—they are both instinctive acts.

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