Just as Los Angeles was the birthplace of the Korean taco, it’s also responsible for African-Americans taking the taco and making it their own. That’s because today, historically black neighborhoods and cities in Los Angeles county have undergone huge demographic changes. The city of Compton (made famous by N.W.A) is now about 65 percent Latino.
The predominantly Mexican population has had a significant effect on everything from food to music. Rhyan Lowery, for example, is a young African-American musician who grew up being influenced by the Latino culture he saw everywhere. Known as El Compa Negro, he sings corridos in near-perfect Spanish.
The Latino community in Compton has also made its mark on the culinary world, resulting in something that is inspired by Mexican food but can’t really be classified as such. Instead, it’s known as the Compton taco. Munchies reports that they don’t follow the traditional rules of Mexican cooking, nor do they care to. It’s a mix of two cultures.
All Flavor No Grease, a takeout spot in nearby Watts, uses store-bought tortillas and has one sauce called “green.” “I’m not gonna do the authentic Hispanic taco,” owner Keith Garrett told Munchies. “I’m gonna use cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, ketchup, and hot sauce. They’re gonna like that ’cause I like that. You feel me?”
In the United States, Los Angeles is one of the places where black and Latino cultures can easily combine to create something new. But African influences are embedded into Latin American culture, with their presence dating back to colonial times. PBS’ Black in Latin America series explains that 11 million Africans were taken to Latin America as slaves. As a result, Brazil, Colombia, and Cuba have some of the largest Afro-descendant populations.
From Bahia in Brazil to the Garifuna in Central America, here are eight foods that Latin Americans can thank Africa for:
Country: Dominican Republic
For many Dominicans, mangú is just part of a balanced breakfast, but the plátano favorite is inspired by West African fufu – a dough made from yucca or cassava. The Dominican mangú has a different consistency and different flavors, but it’s clear that fufu helped make mangú what it is.
Country: Puerto Rico
Mofongo – another dish that uses mashed plantains – also comes from fufu. Mofongo is a mix of mashed green plantains with garlic and vegetables. Things like chicharron, chicken chunks or shrimp folded in before the food is shaped into a mound.
In PBS’ series Black in Latin America, the third episode looks at Peru and Mexico. Here, one woman explored her black roots in The Black Grandma in the Closet. After going to Cuba, she realized that the Afro-Cuban people were cooking the same food as her family in Mexico. Mogo mogo also comes from fufu, but the woman also talked about fried yucca – which resembles french fries – coming from slaves who needed the food for energy.
Countries: Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela
Rondón comes from run down, aka a meal made out of the foods that the cook was able to gather. Traditionally, it is a seafood soup (though meat can also be used) that starts off with a coconut milk base.
It’s flavored by plantains, vegetables, sweet peppers, tubers, and spices.
Vatapá is a Bahian seafood stew made with coconut sauce. It is usually served with acarajé, which is made out of deep-fried beans. Metropole reports that there have been debates over the dish’s origins, but that it’s hard to doubt the food’s African influence.
Bahia has a strong African influence, because it has one of the largest concentrations of African descendants.
Tacu tacu is made from leftover rice and beans, which are fried together into a half-moon shape – it’s vaguely looks like an empanada. Tacu tacu can be served with fried egg and meat.
Country: Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua
Tapado is a Garifuna specialty. It’s a coconut-based soup combined with seafood, like conch, lobster, squid, shrimp, and crab.
“Any and all seafood within reach ends up in one pot, creating a thick and savory marine medley,” according to Honduras.com. “…Coconut milk is just as important as the seafood, it gives the dish a distinct flavor and thickens the pot.”
In Mitos y Leyendas de la Comida Afrocubana, Natalia Bolivar Aróstegui and Carmen González Díaz de Villegas wrote that nearly 50 percent of Cuba’s population was African by 1600, so their influence on Cuban food has been notable, according to the Latin Kitchen.
Malanga, ñame, and plátanos are among some of the most lasting influences, as is quimbombo, aka Cuban okra.