Are Puerto Rican Bakeries in Chicago on the Endangered List?

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I can say with confidence that one of the constant favorites in Puerto Rican food on the island and throughout the Diaspora are the bakeries. Every morning there is a need for fresh bread to fill our bellies to accompany the bold flavors of our café.

More than that, there are island pastries like budín, tembleque, flan, quesitos, pastelillos de guayaba, brazos gitanos, mallorcas, panetela, cazuela, besitos de coco, on and on. But where can you find these pastries here in Chicago? Have we allowed these businesses to fail by patronizing vendors of mass-produced, frozen products like Dunkin’ Donuts and 7-Eleven?

In Chicago, there are nearly 200,000 Boricuas, therefore we are an economically impactful population. Where we eat and spend our dollars is important. Whether we know it or not, we are targeted for our dollars and as we all know, we all have to eat.

Many times we reach for foods of comfort and familiarity. Food is the best physical memory you can have of someone. Of our past. Of an ancestral legacy. We can pass these legacies on to our children so they are not forgotten and soon lost. This can be said about many cultural attributes such as food.

Today, I can name only one bakery in Chicago with a Puerto Rican baker who bakes many of the above pastries daily. He is an anonymous man humbly refusing any interviews, even after countless attempts. But you can find the tall, white-haired man kneading out our island favorites at San Juan Bakery, 3335 W. North Ave. Chicago, IL 60647, “La Casa del Pan Puertorriqueño“.

I write this blog to ask for support to get our bakeries off the endangered list here in Chicago. To support one another. To put money into the small business that are left struggling to survive. If we don’t, who will? We need to look within with a sense of identity and collective pride. A small step towards resisting the extinction of our culture may simply be… to buy a mallorca.

Below I wanted to share a recipe for a traditional Puerto Rican dessert:

Avena

Tembleque de Calabaza: (Pumpkin pudding with Coconut) Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1 cup of water

1 cup of whole milk

½ cup of white sugar

Half can of coconut cream

Lemon zest

Cinnamon stick

Pinch of salt

2 pieces of cut pumpkin(cut 4-5 inches)

4 oz. corn starch

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Toasted shredded coconut

Directions:

1) Add first 7 ingredients and bring to boil in medium-sized pot.

2) In separate pot, boil peeled pieces of pumpkin until they are soft and mash.

3) Add mashed pumpkin to pot with 7 ingredients.

3) In a separate cup add ⅓ cup of lukewarm water to cornstarch and mix.

4) When pot is boiling with 7 ingredients and pumpkin, remove cinnamon stick and pour in corn starch. Mix until tembleque gets thick and sticky. Add small amounts of cornstarch until you have sticky texture.

5) Cook all ingredients for about 3 minutes and put in moldings.

6) Garnish with cinnamon.

7) Toast shredded coconut in small pan. (Do not leave long because it will burn.) When browned, garnish tembleque.

8) Refrigerate for about 6 hours, and enjoy.

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Roberto Pérez

Cooking Philosophy: People have always looked to the colonizers like Spain, Italy, Portugal and France as culinary leaders that we should follow. But we have so much we can draw from as Puerto Ricans. I'd rather look within, look to my family, look to our Taino past, look to our African roots, look to the Caribbean links, and not allow these traditions to fade away. I'd rather cook funche than polenta, caldo santo than paella, guingambo than broccoli, and so on. Unfortunately Chicago has not one Caribbean food blogger and I hope to bring attention to our wonderful culinary experience 

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