New cookbook reflects the diversity of the Puerto Rican diaspora

In “Illyanna Maisonet’s new cookbook reflects the diversity of the Puerto Rican diaspora,” Jaclyn Diaz (NPR) reviews Illyanna Maisonet’s cookbook Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, explaining that “it doesn’t fit neatly into one, set box.” [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Then again, neither does actually being a Diasporican — a member of the more than 5 million-strong tribe of “Ni De Aquí, Ni De Allá,” as Maisonet writes. Her book is a memoir, cookbook and retelling of Puerto Rican history and it’s a testament to her life’s work of documenting and preserving food throughout the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Maisonet, a longtime food writer and the nation’s first Puerto Rican food columnist, is herself Diasporican. She’s the only child of her mother, Carmen (who was just 3 years old when her own parents arrived in California).

Maisonet, her mother and her grandmother (Margarita) all became cooks “out of economic necessity,” the book details. “We did not have the privilege of cooking for pleasure or joy. Our story is one of generational poverty and trauma with glimpses of pride and laughter, all of which have been the catalysts of ample good food in my life,” Maisonet explains in Diasporican. She grew up in Sacramento, Calif., where the area’s diversity influenced Masionet’s “Cali-Rican” style of cooking.

Much of the writing in Diasporican pulls from her prior work in her San Francisco Chronicle column, Cocina Boricua. The column combined her matter-of-fact retelling of her personal story with recipes and other features.

That same writing, honest and weaved with ribbons of historical context, also appears in Diasporican. Maisonet includes 90 recipes; some are from her family, others are Puerto Rican classics, and still more are her own creations that rely on traditional flavors from the island.

Most importantly, though, Maisonet details how Puerto Rican cuisine came to be. She includes her deep research to give readers a broader understanding of where the island’s flavors (an amalgamation of Taino, Spanish, African, and mainland U.S.) come from and how its food, culture, and people were shaped by immigration, conflict, and colonization.

The diversity of Puerto Rican culture, cuisine

With Diasporican, Maisonet celebrates the diversity that exists within the Puerto Rican community — itself tough to categorize. “There are white Puerto Ricans getting radical and surfing in Rincón with sun-bleached blond hair, and Black Puerto Ricans with afros creating arts and crafts in Loíza. And everything in between. And our food reflects that diversity,” Maisonet writes in her book.

And this struggle often means no one knows anything about Puerto Rican food. Not even Puerto Ricans, she notes in the book.

Getting Diasporican published was a years-long process, owing in part to the lack of diversity within publishing and the lack of understanding of Puerto Rican food. [. . .]

Maisonet says she felt no pressure to make her writing and recipes palatable for publishers.

“The only pressure I felt was to represent my grandma’s recipes accurately. The beauty of being a Diasporican is you’re already living outside of a defined box,” she wrote to NPR. “The Puerto Ricans de la isla already aren’t expecting much from you. And the publishers didn’t know what Puerto Rican food was. You’re basically free to do whatever. It all depends on what type of pressure you put on yourself.” [. . .]

For full review, see https://www.npr.org/2022/10/12/1128108064/illyanna-maisonet-puerto-rican-cookbook

[[Puerto Rico, photographed for Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook. Erika P. Rodriguez/Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.]

Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook
Illyanna Maisonet
Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House, October 2022
256 pages
ISBN 978-1984859761 (hc)
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/671586/diasporican-by-illyanna-maisonet-foreword-by-michael-w-twitty-photographs-by-dan-liberti-and–erika-p-rodriguez

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