by Robert Rios
Every Latino and Caribbean country has some form of delectable meat-filled patty of goodness! Where you are from will determine its ingredients, individual flavors, and, most importantly, what it’s called. In the Boricua corner, we call them Pastelillos, and will defend such a title to the death, or at least until we’re full! But if you ask our neighbors to the south en la Quisqueyana, or out in Washington Heights, they’d swear to the high heavens the treats are called Pastelitos. To everyone else who is of South American sangre, or who just don’t know the difference, they are called Empanadas. These golden fried pockets of perfection might even remind you of their Jamaican beef patty counterparts, but don’t you dare compare them, that might get you hurt in some hoods.
The biggest difference is the seasonings; my mom makes the best pastelillos known to man, and I can’t fully enjoy any others, as they never ever compare. I can’t tell you what she uses because I will receive adequate cocotazos for revealing such a well-kept family secret. What I can tell you is that while we all claim, “Mi mama/abuelita makes the best,” there are never any two that taste quite the same.
From my experience, the Puerto Rican variety tend to be smaller, and use the Goya dough discs to make. (“Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno!”) There are, of course, other brands, but the fundamental choices come down to white or yellow dough, store-bought or made from scratch. The Dominican variety tend to be larger, with more dough than filling. The various forms of other empanadas will be somewhere in between and will differ in taste and ingredients. Some will contain just ground beef, others chicken, and some might go crazy and add cheese or have the cheese stand alone. I’ve tasted some with shrimp, crab, lobster, all from the kioskos de Luquillo, Puerto Rico, my paternal homeland. Then there are the ones that contain various meats and fruit combinations. My Peruvian friend’s Mom would put raisins in her empanadas. There’s even a dessert version, filled with guayaba and covered in confection sugar, that looks more like a slice of lasagna pastry than a hot pocket.
Whether you eat it with coco bread, like our Jamaican Brethren’s golden krusts, or three at a time like I do, our collective stomachs have all reveled in delight, and have built countless unforgettable happy memories involving family, tradition, and, of course, good food! So whatever you call them in your neck of the barrio, buen provecho!
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of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.