Asori Soto, USA/Cuba
The last sixty-five years have not done the food culture of Cuba any favors. Political roadblocks and extreme poverty, exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the strict embargoes enacted by the United States, have taken their toll on the island and the strong tradition of cooking it once had. As a child, director Asori Soto experienced first-hand the difficulties and saw its impact on his culture. In this personal and mouthwatering documentary, he returns to Cuba after a decade living in the United States in search of the food of his youth. On his road trip from cities to remote villages only accessible by boat, Soto discovers that in some areas the cuisine is thriving and in others it is on the verge of extinction.
Soto takes the time to let the audience get a feel for the local culture and history, and soon the importance of societal and family in the appreciation and continuation of traditional recipes and cooking methods become apparent. In one scene, a middle-aged man teaches his teenage son the art of roasting a pig in a specially made hammock over an open flame. While clearly a master at this technique, he still asks and receives help from his elderly father, who continues to watch the process with a careful eye. In another, a middle-aged woman living in the countryside offers her home cooked meals, considered some of the best cuisine in Cuba, to anyone who cares to visit. She is recommended by her neighbors and even by many further afield. However despite her obvious skills, she does not charge for the meals, only offering the opportunity to donate and even that embarrasses her. Or in another instance an elderly man teaches his young grandson the art of farming coffee beans, meticulously passing down the knowledge he has gained in his many years.
Time and again the connection between society and family and the upkeep of traditional Cuban cuisines is pointed out. And Soto also highlights the importance of keeping this culture intact despite of the intense political disagreements many Cubans have with one another. Food is a unifying force, and it would be a shame to see the gastronomical traditions of Cuba disappear, which makes Soto’s documentary all the more poignant and necessary as the situation in Cuba begins to change.