Honduran-Style Mangos

Cumin is the one singular smell that immediately transports me back to Honduras. To my grandmother’s kitchen. To my grandmother. It’s earthy, wooden and toasted fragrant smell and taste is effortlessly identifiable and unmistakable. It’s the kind of taste meant to be used in moderation because it can easily, and unforgivingly, overpower anything and everything––whether you intended to, or not.

Recently my friend Sakina––on a trip back to her home country Morocco––brought me back an array of  Moroccan spices, both colorful and muted colors. They were not labeled, and when I asked her the names of the spices, which was which, or how to use them, she replied that some were not translatable or describable in the English language.

I untucked the knot of each small plastic bag of spice, opened its opening up, and inhaled. Cumin was the only one I could identify by sight and smell.

Although Mexican mangos are probably the most transported to the U.S., and accessible to me in New York City, Honduran mangos have and will always be my favorite. I can’t describe their taste, only know that they taste like home. This is why it pains my soul and heart to pay for mangos: to pay for one of the few things in my childhood that was given to us in surplus and abundance.

My grandfather didn’t have much––as a father raising his children, or as a grandfather in his old age. But he did have a mango tree in his small concrete backyard in Progresso, Honduras. On and from that tree mangos grew in abundance and surplus–so much that my grandfather would have to leave bagfulls of mangos at the gate’s entrance for passerbys to take, after he had run out of family members, friends and neighbors to give them to.

A different structural house, but the same plot of government-given land where my mother, tia and tio had been raised with my grandfather, after my grandmother, in a house made of wood slabs and clay. We visited Honduras every summer, dividing our time equally between my grandfather and my grandmother’s house. 

My grandmother has been dead and gone for years now; her beloved cumin wasn’t able to revive or bring her back. My grandfather is currently on bed rest and bound to a wheelchair, awaiting death, never again able to ride his bike into the city, or climb his mango tree to give to everyone and anyone who would take one.


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Honduran-Style Mangos

Ingredients
A green or ripened mango
Two pinches of salt
Two pinches of cumin
The juice of half (or full, if you like acidity) a lime or lemon
The desired amount of your favorite cayenne pepper hot sauce

Instructions
With a peeler, peel the skin off the green or ripened mango, balancing the pressure of the peeler carefully in order not to bruise, depending which mango you choose.

Once completely peeled, slice the mango meat as close to the seed as possible. Then, slice the mango flesh into wedges, as thick or as think as you desire. Personally, if the mango is green, I prefer the slices thin, and if ripened, thick.

Place mango slices in a round bowl. This is important in order to catch and contain the seasoned mango juice. Season mango with salt, cumin, lemon or lime juice. Adjust taste completely on preferred preference.

Lastly, if adventurous, drink the remaining spiced lime or lemon/mango juice that remains.

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Abuelita Knowledge

Today, like many days, I woke up missing my grandmother. So I decided to make myself a Honduran style breakfast. (Sadly, the refried black beans were missing since I had no fresh beans to boil available, and I don’t fucks with canned food.)

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When I think about my grandmother, food, cooking and the kitchen often come to mind. Aside from being an exceptional cook–masterful at preparing and preserving food–it was through food and her process of cooking that one got to know her more intimately. That she got to know you. Unlike my mother–whose relationship to food was that more of serviceability and functionality to ensure that her children were always fed with real and unprocessed foods–my grandmother truly enjoyed being in the kitchen.

She asked questions.

She wanted to know how you wanted your eggs scrambled–did you want one or two eggs? Wanted to know if your coffee was too black–did you want your milk warmed or cold?  Why cold? Wanted to know how many tortillas did you want–one or two? What Honduran man only eats two tortillas? Wanted to know what you wanted to eat upon your arrival to Honduras and what should she gather and prepare for your departure. What did you want to take “back home” with you?

Wanted to know. Wanted to know you.

My grandmother purchased, chucked and milled corn from fresh elotes to make her own tortillastamales and tamalitos. Sat the milk out to her own cuajada cheese. Used pineapple skin peels to make her homemade vinegar. Sliced and diced carrots, onions and jalapeños to make her own curtido/spicy relish. Rolled her tortillas out with a used, greased glass soda bottle. She would make a bowl of refried black beans (smashed with a coffee mug, at that) taste like it was the last meal you requested on earth. (Perhaps it was the pork fat grease she fried them in that also helped.)

My grandmother often laughed–seemed amused, yet intrigued and appreciative–when I would take (more like ask) for a turn in the kitchen. When I pushed (more like nudged) her out of her territory, and out onto the back porch. To have a seat or lay on the maca/hammock while I prepared her a meal. To stay still and do nothing. Not care for anyone else but herself–even if for only a moment.

I miss her greatly. Her laughter. Her small, twinkling eyes. Her sighs, and the “oopale” sound she would make when she was too hot or tired. Now that she is no longer physically present on this earth I wonder: what were her dreams? Her aspirations? Her unfilled desires? Did she know how much we/I love(d) and appreciate(d) her? Did we ask her enough questions? 

Now, more than ever, I wonder, where and how do we collect and document our abuelita funds of knowledges? Creativities? Ingenuities? Masteries? In the face of an ever shifting capitalistic, consumeristic, and technological-driven American and increasing global culture, where and how do we our abuelitas memories alive? Live on? For the next generations to come.

I’d like think my grandmother, my abuelita, was/is the source where some of my own love for food and joy of cooking derives from. (Cooking, and let’s be clear, not washing dishes).

Would I make her proud?

And I can’t help but wonder, now that she is gone, who will keep the keeper of my own dreams?