Croquetas!!

It has been a few years since I had this idea about finding the best Cuban style “croquetas” (pronounced crow-keah-taas). What are croquetas? Well technically, they are originally from Spain, they are simply, put fritters. Typically, they are prepared with a béchamel base and with added meat that is then chilled and formed into cylindrical patties, which are coated in egg wash, breadcrumbs, and fried until crispy and golden on the outside.

In my Cuban household growing up in Mountainside, NJ, USA, these were only prepared for special occasions because they are time-consuming to make. My immediate family which consisted of my grandparents, my parents, myself and my five siblings would devour them so quickly that I often felt sorry for my Abuela Concha and my mom. They would spend the entire evening before any special occasion preparing them, knowing that as the most popular item on the menu, they would have to fight off the children who would try to swipe them before they made it to the dinner table.

Somehow, in the small Cape Cod home we lived in, they still managed to hide them from the kids. There were times my parents would have company, then like magic, croquetas would appear on a silver platter. At these events, we were not allowed near the festivities. For two simple reasons. One, so that the adults could have real conversations instead of always having us about. But we were still allowed nearby as long as we kept silent. Once we began interfering, we would be sent off to bed. The second, of course, that we may swipe the appetizers that were prepared for the guests, mainly the croquetas.

As the years progressed, there would be times we would just buy them in Elizabeth, NJ at Mara Bakery, a Cuban bake shop. I recall those visits like it was yesterday. That is where we would get “pasteles de guayaba” (guava pastry) and drink a malta (a sweet malt beverage) while we waited for our order to be boxed up. Sometimes, my dad would want to go early, so we could hang out and eat Cuban sandwiches and desert and then go home with the order.

The smells of the food and listening to all the Cubans chattering away are some of my fondest memories of my childhood.

Now in my later years, I happen to be married to a beautiful woman who grew up in Cuba. I never realized how Cuban I was until now. Growing up here, in the USA, you can say I am as American as apple pie, but my soul is distinctly Cuban as I have found out and have embraced in these recent years. The humor, the camaraderie and the sadness of a paradise lost are what unite us all outside of the island, and it is what has us praying and helping those still living under the dictatorship in current times.

Getting back to the point, Croquetas! This is one thing that is important to me and should be at every Cuban restaurant. Sadly, many Cuban restaurants don’t even know how to make them, and buy them made offsite. I have compiled a list of 10 random Cuban eateries that serve croquetas on or near Bergenline Avenue in Hudson County that I have tasted. I ordered only ham croquetas, first because they are my favorite and second so that they can be compared on the same scale.

Below is my list with a rating system from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Sadly, I can not give any a 10.

  1. Las Americas, Union City (8.5)
  2. Rumba Cubana, Guttenberg (8.5)
  3. Centro Latino, West New York (8)
  4. Las Chicas, North Bergen (8)
  5. Gilberto’s, North Bergen (7.5)
  6. Las Palmas, West New York (8.5)
  7. Pio Pio, West New York (4) (possibly a recipe from the “Período especial”)
  8. Havana on the Hudson Cafe, West New York (1)*
  9. La Tinajita, West New York (7)
  10. Cortaditos, Union City (1)*

Please take note, I am only rating the Ham Croquetas. I am not rating the restaurant overall. For instance, on the bottom of the list is Cortaditos, meanwhile I love the Café which is great, except for their croquetas which I pray someday soon they will discover another provider or recipe.

*by the way, the two starred I believe order the mix or croquetas from the same vendor as they have the same distinctly odd flavor, and it is not ham.

Why Black Beans Matter!

It has been quite a long time since I have blogged. It seems I did not believe I had anything worth saying. But for the first time in a long time I do have something that needs being said.

Recently, the CEO of Goya foods was attacked by the intolerant socialist for praising the President of the United States of America for creating an environment where his company was able to flourish. This is a company created by immigrants serving the immigrant Latin American community and employing them. This company gave my father, a back then recent escapee of the intolerant communist dictatorship of Cuba and destroyers of free speech, his first decent job in the USA. It was that job that enabled him to get into the food industry and have success with Progresso foods. It was that ability given to him by the hand of the company of Goya Foods that enabled him to later on also become successful and found the money transmittal company RIA ENVIA which after being sold, many years later has become RIA Financial Services.

Black beans are a staple foods of many Latin Americans. They are the food shared by the Cubans when they fought for their independence. They are the food that united Blacks, Whites and Mulatos as they fought side by side to their death against the Spaniards in their war for independence. They are the food that sustained them through hardships and freedoms hard fought for and eventually won. They are the heart of the real and recognized ending of slavery and creation of an unprejudiced independent people that are called Cuban.

Even now across the gap from the USA to the island nation of Cuba there is a love that never ends. The Cubans that make it to this free country work hard and send money back to the Island nation to support family and friends. Meanwhile, the cruel criminal dictatorship, which robs the people of their freedoms and ability to earn a good living still exists. The system has been able to continue to keep the people under their oppressive feet by the help of external funding, though now some of that is beginning to falter.

The Cubans here, both born here and recently arriving still dream for the days we can be reunited with our fellow islanders in a free Cuba. Where we can go and enjoy a real Cuba Libre with breaded steak, black beans and rice. It is a dream I always had hoped I would be able to share with my father but sadly he passed before it could come true.

My Dad

Now, in this great free country of the United States of America there are those that want to continue to try the failed experiment know as socialism, or rightly known as communism. Well, I for one will not stand for it. I will fight if needed to protect this great nation from the evil that has persecuted generations of Cubans with poverty, imprisonment and death for speaking their minds.

In search for food

I have great respect for Robert Unanue for standing his ground. I have great respect for the company which brings pride to many Latin Americans such as myself. And I say again that Black Beans Matter because they are a real symbol of our unity as a people representing freedom and love.