Food History Series part 1- Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans)
Rice and beans. Almost every country and culture has its own way of making this simple, yet complicated dish. As a Nicaragüense, I was going to write about the history of Gallo Pinto but, to be honest, there wasn’t much to uncover. What I found was pretty interesting but the path that it led me gave me so much more.
Gallo Pinto: A Quick Overview
If you aren’t familiar, Gallo pinto is a traditional dish in Nicaragua (and Costa Rica). It is eaten at any meal but most eat it during breakfast. It’s traditionally served with fried eggs and toast for breakfast or as a side dish for lunch or dinner. As a vegan, I eat it with a tofu scramble or just by itself with some avocado and salsa, and of course, some toast! Gallo Pinto is such an integral part of the Nicaragüense identity and culture that many Nicaragüeses, including my Tía, has a pan just to make gallo pinto. And I have to say, her gallo pinto is the best!
It’s considered the national dish of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and there’s been a rivalry of who “invented” the dish and can rightfully say is theirs. I don’t really care about that. It’s delicious and I eat it all the time. Sadly, I went through a phase when I was younger where I just wanted to assimilate and not eat rice and beans. I was a troubled youth with a lot of internalized oppression. But I’m glad that phase is over and I’m back to being a Gallo pinto lover!
History Of Gallo Pinto
Like I said, gallo pinto’s history is short. It was first said to be mentioned in a book written by a Costa Rican author named by Carlos Luis Fallas. The book, titled Mamita Yunai, was a historical novel about workers on banana plantations. The workers, both Nicaragüenses and Costariquenses, learned to eat it from the afro-caribbean community living in Central America. Then the workers took it to their respective countries. It is said that this is why there is a bit of a rivalry between Nicaragua and Costa Rica about who developed the dish and who rightfully can say that it’s their national dish.
Meaning “spotted or speckled rooster”, gallo pinto got its name because of the way it look but also because of a funny story about a don, named Alberto. Alberto was said to have been bragging about the size of his rooster and invited everyone he saw on the street to come partake. When the day finally arrived, the entire village came to eat and party. But obviously the rooster wasn’t big enough to feed everyone, so he went to the kitchen to ask the cooks to make a big pot of rice and beans so that the villagers wouldn’t go home hungry. Everyone was disappointed and so days after the supposed party, the villagers, to mock Don Alberto, kept asking each other, “how was your gallo pinto?” referring to the beans and rice that they were given. And the name stuck.
Rice and Beans Around the World
Even though I didn’t find a deep and ancestral story about gallo pinto, like I wanted to, I found an amazing variety of preparations for rice and beans from around the world. What’s interesting is where rice and beans meet.
Rice was first thought to be brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese during their genocidal conquering. But, historians are now saying that it may have been enslaved Africans to have played a bigger role in the popularization of rice on this continent. Even cooler still, scientists have found that indigenous populations in the Amazon have been cultivating a food similar to rice for the last 4,000 years! Pinto beans originated on this continent, mostly in Central and South America and then spread to other parts of the world. Considered the “three sisters”, beans, squash and corn were routinely grown together because of their symbiotic relationship (they each help one another grow) and so were a staple in indigenous cooking and eating.
The idea of mixing rice and beans is said to have originated in West Africa and brought to the Americas with the slave trade. Once here, it has spread from northern to southern tips and has gone through so many variations.
Below are some of the different combinations from different parts of the world. See any of your favorites? See some that you’ve never heard of?
· Arroz con gandules, a part of Puerto Rico's national dish which is rice with pigeon peas.
· Arroz junto, a Puerto Rican version of rice, meat and beans cooked together
· Feijoada, Brazilian national dish
· Gallo pinto, a Nicaraguan/Costa Rican version of rice and beans
· Hoppin' John, a black-eyed peas dish from the southern United States
· Kongbap, a Korean rice and beans dish
· Moro de guandules, a Dominican version of rice and pigeon peas
· Pabellón criollo, a Venezuelan version of rice and black beans with pulled beef.
· Platillo Moros y Cristianos, a Cuban version of fully mixed rice and black beans
· Rajma, an Indian bean dish usually served with rice
· Waakye, a Ghanaian rice and beans dish
· Bruine Bonen met rijst, a traditional Surinamese one-pot dish of meat, beans and rice
This is just the tip of the iceberg when you start digging into the history of rice and beans. There’s actually a whole book about this combination, called Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places!
Though this isn’t where I thought this blog post would go, I’m so glad that it did! Rice and beans is a dish that a majority of the world enjoys and I think that is super cool, no matter where it originated from.
Here’s a basic recipe to make Gallo Pinto for how I make it. But every nicaraguense has their way as with any culturally significant dish so just play around and find what works best for your tastes.
cooked red beans (not kidney beans!), can also use black and pinto
cooked rice, white is more traditional but brown works if that’s what you got
Add some oil to a hot pan. Then add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes, until it becomes translucent. Then add the cooked rice and allow it to warm up, but don’t let it brown. Once the rice is warm, add the red beans with the juice. Mix and allow to cook until the rice has changed in color and he mixture is not so wet.
My family likes to lower the heat and allow the Gallo pinto to crisp up. If you don’t like that, feel free to serve after all the juice has been soaked up! If you do, lower the heat and cover the pan with a lid, and keep on the fire or about 5 minutes. don’t stir it as that will keep you from getting that nice, crispy bottom. When crispy, stir and serve!
You cans serve it with a tofu scramble, avocado or ensalada de repollo. And of course, don’t forget the pan tostado and a cafecito! Buen provecho!
Here are some of the references I used to find out a little bit of history. Not the most academic but this blog series is just for fun so…