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Alexandria Daily Town Talk

A Taste Of Home

By Andrew Griffin

October 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Alexandria Daily Town Talk. All rights reserved. 

Cenla Hispanics share their favorite traditional dishes

With the observation of Hispanic Heritage month wrapping up on Friday, The Town Talk asked several of Cenla's Hispanic residents about the traditional dishes they enjoy.

Juan Banales, owner of La Hacienda Mexican restaurant in Pineville, offers a wide variety of Mexican dishes, many of which are similar to dishes he and his family prepare in their own homes.

Originally from the Mexican city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Banales and his family got their start in Ohio and recently came to Louisiana to bring their dishes to Cenla.

"It's different in Mexico," Banales said. "The tortillas are fresh, both flour and corn."

When asked what he fixes at home, away from the La Hacienda kitchen, Banales, who himself got his start working in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant, began naming popular items like chimichangas, fajitas, taquitos, carnitas, and even the perennial favorite - nachos.

A dish he makes both at home and at his restaurant is the El Talpatio, which is a grilled chicken breast covered with Mexican sausage and melted cheese.

Another home favorite, he said, is mole sauce.

Mole poblano, Banales said, tastes sweet and features shredded chicken topped with mole sauce and served with rice and beans and guacamole salad and two tortillas.

He also enjoys the mole ranchero.

This, he said, features shredded chicken topped with ranchero sauce, served with rice and beans, guacamole salad and two flour tortillas.

And washing it all down are fruit-flavored Mexican sodas or sangria.

During the interview, Banales has a family member prepare some dishes including Tex-Mex fajitas, an "El Paso Special" which includes two beef or chicken quesadlillas covered with cheeses, guacamole salad and pico de gallo and sour cream.

A taco salad is also placed on the table.

Lorenzo Banales, Juan Banales' brother, is part of the La Hacienda family and loves food from his native land.

When asked about his favorite homemade dish, he said that he likes basically anything with chicken.

"I don't like red meat," he said.

Juan Banales' wife, Maria Fuentes, said her favorites are the mole and the tamales, while her daughter Maria Banales prefers the Tex-Mex fajitas.

Horacio Banales and Mirna Montano both said they like the chicken fajitas and make them at home.

Jalisco, Mexico native Antonio Zarate, manager of El Reparo restaurant in Alexandria echoed much of what Banales and the others at La Hacienda said.

Many of the dishes Zarate serves in his restaurant are the same dishes he would serve in his own home.

"It's the same," Zarate said of the dishes at home and at work. "I like fajitas … they are traditional not only in Mexico but in the United States too."

Zarate also said he enjoys


chimichangas and quesadillas and that he tends to prefer dishes containing chicken.

"I like everything," Zarate said with a smile.

Marisela Melendez, an employee at El Reparo, said a dish called pasole -- a mixture of corn, beans, tomatoes and usually pork - is a personal favorite.

When asked why she thought Mexican food was so popular, Melendez said it was probably due to the spiciness of the food.

"Everything we do is spicy," Melendez said.

While Mexicans are a growing segment of Cenla's population, there are also those from other parts of the Spanish-speaking hemisphere to our south.

The Rev. Jose Robles Sanchez, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church is a native of Puerto Rico and loves one native dish in particular - pasteles.

Similar to the tamale, the pastele is made with a mix of plantains, green bananas, and the yuca root all mix together with either pork or chicken.

"Whatever you like," he said.

Sanchez said the mixture is then wrapped in a plantain leaf and further secured by a string in what is called pasteles paper. Neither the leaf nor the paper is edible.

"It's very popular around Christmas and popular around holidays," Robles Sanchez said. "Puerto Ricans like to eat that served with rice and beans or green peas and rice."

The pasteles are then put into a pot of boiling water for an hour and then are ready to eat, unless you prefer to put some condiments on it, something traditionally not done in Puerto Rico. That is changing, however.

"Some Puerto Ricans put Tabasco or ketchup on it," Robles Sanchez said. "That's the influence of the United States."

And standing next to a sign in his kitchen, which reads "Jose's Place," Robles Sanchez stacks up cans of pink beans next to a container of uncooked rice and containers of spices and seasonings.

Finding the ingredients for pasteles isn't always easy, being so far away from home.

"It is very difficult to find spices … good products to do Puerto Rican home cooking. You often have to depend on your family to send it to you or go to the bigger cities like Houston, Dallas or New Orleans to get the right ingredients.

Robles Sanchez said he also enjoys a Puerto Rican delicacy of pig's feet cured in salt, something that is difficult to find in Cenla.

He laughs at the notion of such a treat, but he loves it just the same.

"I want people of Louisiana not to love me because I'm a priest or Latino or because I'm funny," he said. "I want people to love me because I'm a child of God … a child of God who likes to eat salted pig's feet with garbonzo beans and rice."

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