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Best Empanadas…'Malta' Offers Nutrition -- Not Alcohol… Child Cries For Malta, Police Confused, Not For All Hispanics

Best Empanadas\ La Casa De Las Empanadas

Maria Padilla, Sentinel Staff Writer

July 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

The empanada is common to most Spanish-speaking groups, from Puerto Rico to Peru. When they are cooked well, empanadas can be a real delicacy. Some people call them the Hispanic version of pizza.

Lots of Hispanic restaurants sell empanadas, but most are not very good. And, if the pastry shell is hard, uniform in shape and deep yellow in color, you can bet it's processed food.

However, one restaurant deserves bragging rights: La Casa de las Empanadas, at the intersection of Oak Ridge Road and Rio Grand Avenue in Orlando. And man oh man oh man. These empanadas are the real thing: plenty of seasoned filling covered with a deep-fried flaky crust.

What sets apart the empanadas at Casa de las Empanadas? For starters, the pastry is fresh. It's soft, almost translucent around the filling and has air pockets.

In addition, the filling is tasty. My mom made empanadas with ground beef, and they still are my favorites. At Casa de las Empanadas, the ground beef is not just cooked, but seasoned with onions, capers, red peppers, maybe a dash of garlic, all in a tomato sauce.

La Casa de las Empanadas also makes empanadas with chicken, cheese, ropa vieja or shredded beef, lobster and shrimp.

At Casa de las Empanadas, unlike many other restaurants, the empanadas don't stay under heat lamps for very long. They sell quickly. And if they don't have what you want, they'll make one for you on the spot!

Practically any dish at La Casa de las Empanadas is as homemade as can be for a restaurant. If you go, be sure also to taste the sorullos. These cornmeal fritters with a dash of vanilla and cinnamon are stuffed with cheese and -- without exaggeration -- are to die for.

La Casa de las Empanadas is located at 1717 W. Oak Ridge Road, Orlando. Phone: 407-812-9697.

'Malta' Offers Nutrition -- Not Alcohol

Maria Padilla

August 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

When I was a child, my mom would make me drink malta, a malt drink. She'd pour the malta in a blender, add eggs and sometimes sugar, mix it all up and serve.

"This is good for you," she said, and my brothers and sisters and I would have to drink the bitter-tasting brown-colored beverage -- or else.

My mother was not alone. Millions of Hispanic moms from coast to coast have done the same. Hispanics of all nationalities drink malta: Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Dominicans. In fact, if your mom didn't make you drink malta, you're not Hispanic.

I hadn't thought about or drunk malta in years until I received a call from Richard Velázquez of Ocoee. Last spring, school officials at West Orange Ninth Grade Center suspended Velázquez's 16-year-old foster daughter in part for drinking malta, stating it contained 5 percent alcohol.

"Could you believe this?" he asked.

It's time to call out the malta brigade. Thousands of Hispanic children returned to Orange schools this week, and the next child to be suspended for drinking malta could be yours. After all, one of every four students in Orange County is Hispanic. I shudder to think that my own daughter has packed malta in her lunch bag.

The administrator's error is a good example of how a lack of cultural knowledge can cause harm.

Orange administrator Robert Leclaire, who handled the West Orange case, acknowledged the school system's ignorance about malta. He has pledged to bring up the issue today at a meeting of the school district's area administrators, who handle disciplinary matters for the different learning communities.

"It's a cultural thing. Other people need to know about it and develop a policy," he said.

For the record, malta is not an alcoholic beverage, although it's easy to understand how non-Hispanics might get that impression. Malta is sold in dark brown bottles, although it now also comes in cans. The drink contains barley, which is a primary ingredient in beer. Unlike beer, however, malta doesn't contain alcohol, and its packaging clearly states that.

This is what a food expert has to say about malta:

According to Puerto Rican Cookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, who wrote the best Puerto Rican cookbook ever published, malta is "a nonalcoholic malt beverage extensively used for its nutritional value."

The drink is stocked in Hispanic supermarkets, as well as by the major chains, such as Publix and Winn Dixie, in Hispanic areas. No minor will be "carded" for buying malta. It is no more alcoholic than apple cider, a drink that also is fermented.

Many Hispanics and Caribbean people have a taste for drinks that are fermented, but do not contain alcohol. These include mauby (maví in Spanish),ginger beer, and sorrell -- which are made from tree bark, ginger root and the bud of the flower of a sorrel tree, respectively. Tamarindo, made from the pulp of the tamarind seed, also is popular. These ingredients are soaked in water, strained and sweetened. Delicious!

It's difficult for people outside the Hispanic culture to understand its customs, but it's fair to expect school officials to educate themselves.

"I'm going to go out and buy a bottle [of malta] and taste it myself," Leclaire said.

Sounds like a good idea.

Child Cries For Malta

Letters To The Editor

August 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

I appreciated María Padilla's column on malta. I was just recently vacationing in Puerto Rico with my children (7 and 12 years old). Of course, we stopped by the local bakery every morning to get our favorite pastries, and breakfast sandwiches.

In the bakery, there was a young father trying to get his 5-year-old boy to eat his breakfast sandwich. While we waited for our orders, we witnessed as this young boy screamed for malta. His dad said no, that he needed to eat first. However, more screams of "quiero malta" and sobs were heard. The dad bought the malta and ordered him not to touch the malta and to eat first. More screams of "quiero malta" filled the peaceful bakery.

The little boy never ate the sandwich, but he left the bakery quiet, happy and drinking his malta. By the way, my mother used to feed me malta with eggs, sugar and Welch's grape juice. I used to get up in the middle of the night craving it. Then, I drank a whole bottle of malta at 2 a.m. and go back to sleep.

Annie Drake
Grapevine, Texas

Police also are confused

María Padilla's column about malta caught my eye immediately. I read it and passed it on to my husband, saying "¡Toma, lee esto!".

My husband is a sales manager for a local company. One of his distributors got into a fender bender about three weeks ago and he had to rush to the scene. In the course of the investigation of the accident, a Department of Transportation officer decided to inspect the vehicle and came out with a bottle of malta. He showed it to my husband and to a Florida trooper who was also there.

He indicated he was going to have to arrest my husband's employee because he had found alcohol in the vehicle. The trooper was Hispanic and laughed at the idea.

Both my husband and the trooper tried to explain how Hispanics give this drink to children, breast-feeding moms, and the ailing or frail.

The DOT guy finally gave in and decided just to fine the guy for the accident. But my husband laughed all the way home. So, do us a favor. Since you've already recommended that school officials "educate themselves" on this matter, would you include law enforcement in that deal too?

Lizette and Fremio Valarino

Malta not for all Hispanics

I enjoyed reading María Padilla's column on malta. I agree with you that we need to further educate our community about cultural differences. However, please note that I was offended at the statement you made in your article that "if your mom didn't make you drink malta, you're not Hispanic."

I am of Nicaraguan descent and malta is not a drink that I came to discover until I moved to Orlando. It is not something that is consumed in Nicaragua, and I would venture to say that there are many other Latin American countries that do not drink malta.

I appreciate the fact you not only embrace Hispanic culture, but also try to educate our community about our cultural differences. But please understand that, while we are all Hispanic and share many cultural similarities, there are a few differences.

That Hispanics from Central or South America do not always share the same culinary delights does not make them any less Hispanic than those from the Caribbean.

E. Fernández

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