How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Ethnic food tastes worth acquiring: Arroz con calamares en su tinta

Photo by Boca Dorada/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mmm, inky. Arroz con calamares, February 2007.

Today marks the launch of a week's worth of posts about food. Not just any food, but those dishes in every ethnic cuisine that may not seem appetizing to those who didn't grow up with them, or require more than one taste to fall in love with, but are delicious to those in the know.

I'll be compiling a list throughout the week of tastes worth acquiring, and suggestions are welcome. The idea is to spread the culinary wealth. Those who grew up drinking Vietnamese-style avocado milkshakes may never have tried Oaxacan-style huitlacoche empanadas, and vice versa. Big town, lots of food to try.

Most of my own food tastes are acquired, courtesy of Los Angeles, but I'll kick off the list with a dish from my upbringing: Arroz con calamares en su tinta, or rice with squid in its own ink. This is not to be confused with the more mildly flavored squid-ink risotto or black pasta that foodies order at upscale Italian eateries order when feeling adventurous. This is the brawny, briny, fishy peasant version from the Caribbean, best eaten locally in one of L.A.'s traditional Cuban joints.

The dish originated in Spain, was imported to the colonies and is still eaten in several Latin American countries. (It's also known as arroz negro, or black rice, and black paella.) I'm accustomed to the Cuban version, improved on with sofrito, the standard cooking base of onions, garlic and bell peppers. It's pretty straightforward: Squid in its own blue-black ink (likely canned, since milking ink from a fresh squid is an icky task) cooked with rice and flavored with sofrito. The end product has a slightly purplish-gray cast, including the squishy bits of squid scattered through the rice.

It looks, frankly, disgusting. The first bite tastes fishy, which doesn't help. But the second tastes better, and the third is seriously addicting. It's a riot of salt and brine, and it grows on you.

If you know of a dish along the same lines that you'd like to suggest - and where around town to find it - please post a comment below. Photos are welcome, too.

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