Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home

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In the tradition of Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, an acclaimed playwright recounts his life as an exile—and the food that helped lead him back home.Born into a well-to-do family in Cuba in 1953, Eduardo Machado saw firsthand the effects of the rising Castro regime. When he and his brother were sent to the United States on one of the Peter Pan flights of 1961, they did not know if they would ever see their parents or their home again. From his experience living in exile in Los Angeles to becoming an actor, director, playwright and professor in New York, Machado explores what it means to say good-bye to the only home one’s ever known, and what it means to be a Latino in America today. Filled with delicious recipes and powerful tales of family, loss, and self discovery, Tastes Like Cuba delivers the story of Eduardo’s rich and delectable life—reminding us that no matter where we go, there is no place that feels (and tastes) better than home.


Michael Domitrovich
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Tastes Like Cuba: An Exile's Hunger for Home
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I'm a big proponent of food memoirs. &nbspI'll read anything by someone with a knowledge of food and cooking and an interesting life. &nbspNothing goes better with detailed memories than a tasty dish served in a memorable way. &nbspWhen 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. &nbspI 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. &nbspWe get a stunning description of Cuba, pre-Castro. &nbspThe palm trees, the fish pulled fresh from the ocean, the cane sugar drinks in the hot summer sun. &nbspMr. Machado obviously drank in his Cuban childhood, and he pours it out for us to live through, although vicariously. &nbspEven 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. &nbspAs 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 ‘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. &nbspThey 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. &nbspThe 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. &nbspIn 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. &nbspWe, 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. &nbspThough he does return to Cuba, we have already lost interest. &nbspThe thread of the story has been dropped. &nbspAnd 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. &nbspMaybe 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. &nbspMaybe the thoughtless recipes in this section represent his misdirected life, were actually purposely chosen. &nbspBut 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. &nbspMost of the recipes are taken from family members, but as the book continues, Mr. Machado's influence begins to be felt. &nbspHis 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. &nbspAnother highlight is Gladys's Garlic Chicken. &nbspThe chicken is tangy and fresh, and it makes you wonder how much more stunning Gladys's true recipe is. &nbspThe 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. &nbspOne 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. &nbspAs a memoir, the book also suffers from the self-absorption of the writer. &nbspBut in the last analysis, the book is an interesting ride.

Recipe from the book: Arroz con Pollo Recipe


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