Ask me to pick out a favorite food from my childhood, made for special occasions and holidays, and right away I think of Christmas and Tia Aleyda’s arroz con pollo (rice and chicken). Many years later it still doesn’t feel like Christmas without it.
When I was a child in Panama, we had several holiday traditions. we spent Christmas Eve at my aunt’s house, and on Christmas Day my family had an open house that lasted much of the day and into the night, with lots of food and even more people. Music was always playing; whether it came from the hi-fi or my dad and uncle singing and playing the guitar.
But Christmas Eve we always got to have my aunt’s arroz con pollo. It’s a dish made throughout Latin America, with every country having their own recipe variation. I can’t really put my finger (or should I say tongue?) on exactly what made Tia Aleyda’s so much better than everyone else’s, so special. I’ve tried several times to duplicate her recipe and have struck out each time. I just can’t get it to come out as delicious as hers.
Maybe it’s the different ingredients we have in Virginia versus Panama. Could be there’s some special cooking technique I haven’t mastered yet. Or maybe Panamanian chickens are more tasty than their Virginia counterparts.
Could it be that what makes me remember a simple rice and chicken dish so fondly is not so much the flavor of the food, but the festive atmosphere? Being surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, my parents, brother and sister? I’m sure it’s a combination of all those things. I miss having lots of family around me for the holidays. But soon enough our kids will start having kids of their own and there will be more of us, filling that void.
But please guys: not any time soon! We’re not ready for grandchildren yet!