Emilio Villarruel
Emilio Villarruel
Director of Marketing

Breaking Bread: Flan Across Borders

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Breaking Bread: Flan Across Borders

Ask anyone that spends enough time away from home what they miss the most, and undoubtedly food will soon be the subject of conversation. Whether it’s regional treats ranging from Detroit-style pizza to Sonoran hotdogs in Phoenix. there are certain flavor finds which are hyper special and hyper-local (and accordingly, hyper rare outside of their habitat).

These foods are like phantoms, invisible and out of mind until they one day begin to haunt you incessantly. I shudder to think about the Reese Peanut Butter Cup drought I experienced while living in Korea, the distinct lack of quality cheese in Beijing, or attempts to find plantains pretty much anywhere in Asia. Motivated in search of culinary exorcisms the hungry and determined set forth and set forward, hoping to satiate cravings from the past. 

As someone that’s spent a considerable amount of time traveling, I’ve hit all of the desperate foodie travel milestones; the speedy layover food run to grab In N Out at LAX, the Better Made potato chips stuffed luggage, and of course, the andouille sausage crossing state lines in an ice bath for future po’boy provisions. There are some flavors worth the efforts of finding them, or in perhaps in more food-familiar terms - the juice is worth the squeeze. 

Unsurprisingly, after relocating to Taiwan, it’s been some time since I’ve had what can be described as food that connects to my cultural roots, frankly, there isn’t an abundance of options around.  This is through no fault of its own, after all a completely unstructured, anecdotal review of the culinary options available worldwide through the years, it seems Latin cuisine has until fairly recent years eluded the attention of the F&B community. Sure you can find a treatment on “burritos” in any major city, but the accuracy of the treatment is never guaranteed and as such, often disappointing.

While I could write an entire treaty on “burritos behaving badly” - I’ve seen things that’d make Chipotle staff avert their gaze - or other adventurous attempts at cuisine from worlds away, really, why bother? Rather than judge how far off they miss the mark, sometimes it can be a little sacrilegious fun at worst (chicken tikka masala burrito?) at best it’s an attempt at bridging the gap between cultures; and who can be mad at that? 

All that said, while I do my best to appreciate all of the regionally colored attempts at my childhood cuisine, nothing can compete with the classics. It’s always a bit of an emotional experience when I catch wind of a new Latin food place nearby - I don’t discriminate, being mixed Puerto Rican and Mexican with a Columbian grandfather covers a lot of range. Good taste and similarities across Latin American cuisine cover the rest of the spread.  Dare I let my hopes up that my next meal will scratch the itch?

If it sounds like I’m chasing the dragon here, the pursuit really is quite reminiscent. After having exhausted the more obvious local options I opted for pursuing Facebook groups and several years old Reddit threads - truly dark places of the internet, approaching digital strangers with desperate pleas for any leads on where I could catch my fix on solid Latin American fare. 

Ultimately, my quest came across an unfamiliar name for a Mexican restaurant - Las Adelitas. My Apple Watch alert soon confirmed what I already knew to be true, the mere mention of a restaurant with a Spanish name got my heart racing and stomach rumbling. I eagerly reached out, encouraged by the early signs of authenticity, and checked my messages incessantly in anticipation of a response. A response back - in Spanish no less! - gave me hope. Though the restaurant was hours away, they did ready-to-cook meal boxes available for shipping. Sight unseen I bought three. Some decisions are unwise on paper but if you’ve been in my position then I’m confident you’d understand. 

Appearing in an unassuming but particularly bulky set of manila envelopes, my arrivals may have given cause for concern to neighbors watching me gingerly but hurriedly rush them home. Respectfully, my priorities were elsewhere and I addressed them promptly. Not to bury the lede here, but what arrived can only be described as ambrosia. Vacuum-sealed bags of chorizo, marinated pork still sloshing in rich marinade, stacks of corn tortillas made fresh, obviously repurposed pasta sauce jars filled with homemade salsa, and the pièce de résistance an entire (and entirely unexpected) flan.

A handwritten note on the flan indicated it was a free treat from the house, a little something extra as a kind gesture to celebrate my first purchase - I’m not too proud to admit I melted a little. Being rewarded for my search with not only what I was looking for, but a dessert I didn’t dare to hope I’d find had suddenly appeared in front of me. Flan, a simple caramel custard, carried more weight than you’d think (and I don’t mean calorically, but well, sure that too).

As the product of mixed heritage, from the inside, I at times felt the contrast between cultures more often than the similarities, but flan was one of those culturally shared desserts that I could look forward to regardless of the menu for the day. To enjoy it thousands of miles from home took me back to a simpler time in my childhood. I journeyed home first class by way of fork, and I made several return visits. A reminder of the power of food and the importance of following your gut when the craving for nostalgic eats strikes. 

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