Not just for dinner

Do you have a recipe that was passed down from your grandmother? China from your great-great aunt, the only one of her generation who ever had any money? Or are you curious enough about your heritage that you have researched your entire family tree, such as is done on the popular TV shows Who Do You Think You Are?, and Finding Your Roots? All this comes in the wake of a dust-up over a family recipe last week in my birthplace of Philadelphia.


Mexican workers march for rights in San Jose, CA, in 2006.  Photo credit:  Wikipedia

The story of the disagreement begins in the heart of South Philadelphia, the land where gwumpkies once met Sunday dinner with Nonna, about four blocks from the Tasker-Morris stop on the Broad Street subway, and also within walking distance of the legendary cheesesteak joints Pat’s and Geno’s. Arguably, this is the most diverse community in Philadelphia today. The place that stands here is South Philly Barbacoa.

Speaking of birthplaces, Cristina Martinez, whose family recipe is central to the menu at South Philly Barbacoa, is proudly from Capulhuac, Mexico, known as the birthplace of barbacoa. In this case, Chef Cristina’s barbacoa is made from lamb, marinated, pit roasted for 10 to 12 hours, and served on weekends from early morning until … well, until it’s gone.

Mission Taqueria is a recently opened restaurant in Center City Philadelphia. Any agreement between that restaurant, and the crew at South Philly Barbacoa, ends there. Cristina Martinez has published an opinion in the Huffington Post, which says that this new place has stolen the recipe, and then altered it with tzatziki sauce, without regard to what she calls “heart, flavor, work, spices, integrity.” To her, a taco is a simple, but very important meal enjoyed at the end of a hard day’s work, something that is too hard to come by for undocumented immigrants.

Cristina herself is undocumented. With the notoriety that came with being named to Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants list, she chose to speak out, and organize the undocumented community. In order to gain legal status, she would have to voluntarily leave the country, then face a ban on returning that could last up to ten years. Like many, she’s built a life in this country: her husband Ben Miller is her partner in the restaurant. However, no one should miss the fact that South Philly Barbacoa is on the Bon Appetit list for delicious food, and the care that is taken in preparing it.

Recently, the restaurant urged its followers on Facebook: “Have courage! Take a stand for what you believe in!” Check and double-check.

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