For as long as I can remember, I have celebrated nearly every holiday by going over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house, spending time with them and many other relatives, and enjoying wonderful food. My Aunt and Uncle, who came from Puerto Rico, always spends most of the day in the kitchen preparing the feast which is anxiously anticipated by everyone, the moment they arrive at the house. The house isn’t very large, so the smell of the kitchen constantly circulates throughout the rooms, drawing most of the family to the dining room long before any meal was served. They would cook countless different meals for every occasion, but the one dish that was always present was the arroz con gandules, as no meal in Puerto Rican culture is considered complete without it.
When I was young I would have been considered a very picky eater, because my palate mostly consisted of hamburgers, pizza, hotdogs and all other sorts of other plain, boring meals. Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of a lot of the traditional food that my Aunt and Uncle would cook, but from the first time I was introduced to arroz con gandules, I was hooked. It isn’t a very complicated meal, which is probably the reason I was drawn to it in the first place, but even in its simplicity, the many distinct flavors from the sofrito and the sazón present in the rice made me want more after every bite.
One of the great things about arroz con gandules is the fact that it can go with nearly every other food. This is one of the reasons it is cooked so often in Puerto Rican households, and why it is never absent from any meal. So as I, with my very underdeveloped palate, would attempt to eat the random, sometimes exotic food they would offer me, I always went back to the rice as a way to soothe my taste buds from all the strange flavors that I couldn’t handle at the time.
But as I matured, my palate finally began to expand and I became more accepting of new kinds of food, and learned to appreciate and finally enjoy the many different foods offered to me by my Puerto Rican relatives. And with this newfound appreciation, came an even greater love for the arroz con gandules, and as I grew older, I found myself enjoying the dish even more than i did when I was a child. The many flavors resonated with me even more than they ever had before, as every time I had the dish, I was flooded with the many great memories of being with my family and enjoying the holidays with them year after year. To this day, it still remains one of my favorite meals and one that I look forward to with every coming visit to their house.