A Powerful Cultural Connection Through One Simple Dish

Have you ever cooked a dish so good that it transported you to another place and time? For me, that dish is Sopa de Conchas. Every time I make it, I’m whisked away to my mom’s kitchen, where she would cook up a huge batch every week. Even now, decades later, her cooking still brings comfort and happiness to my family. What is it about food that can create such powerful connections across generations and cultures? I believe it has something to do with the way we use food to celebrate our shared traditions and heritage. Because of that cultural connection, I make a point to appreciate this dish every single time I make it for my kiddos. 

When A Dish Slaps You Back To Your Childhood 

If you’ve seen the movie Ratatouille, you surely remember the scene where Anton Ego loses his mind over Remy’s dish. I have the same experience each time I cook and eat my mom’s soup of conchitas (shells). It is THE dish I’ve carried with me throughout my life that equates to home and comfort. 

Growing up in a lower- to middle-class family, we didn’t have much money to spend on food. Both of my parents worked as janitors for the school district, and they had a total of seven mouths to feed. Most nightly meals were Mexican picadillo, refried beans, rice, or a bowl of conchitas. It is the most simple dish, yet it comes with so much love and nourishment. 

When I had a bad day at school, a bowl of conchas awaited me at home. And when my high school boyfriend asked to come over on a Saturday afternoon, it was to eat a bowl of conchas—not necessarily to see me. It is the dish that encapsulates the essence of my mom and to this day, connects me to her with every spoonful. 

Cultural Connection Brings Us Together

Food connects us. Across the globe, hands down, food is the language we all speak. If we sat down at a table with someone who spoke a different language, one thing is for sure: we’d both understand, “Mmm.” 

One of the most beautiful things about connecting with culture through food is opening your mind and taste buds to a whole new world. I remember tasting Asian food for the first time as a child, and it quickly became a favorite. And let’s not forget about that boyfriend who fell in love with my mom’s soup. (I married that guy, by the way.) Although the marriage didn’t stand the test of time, the soup has, and my new guy loves it just the same. 

Cultural Connection Through Food: 

  • Work food into your travel: Or rather, plan a weekend getaway around eating to expand your experiences in regional cuisines you’ve never had. 
  • Learn about a new culture through a friend: Host a dinner party with friends and ask them to bring a dish from their cultural background. It not only creates a deeper connection with them, but also increases cultural awareness. 
  • Take a field trip to a local international food store: Some of the most fun grocery shopping excursions have been to the international store. Walking in without a plan or list, wandering down each aisle, and exploring all the interesting ingredients is my kind of a good time. 
  • Explore your city: If you’ve been wanting to try that new Mediterranean or Somalian place, what are you waiting for? Check out those places and new local food trucks. Make it a point to try a new restaurant every month. You never know what new delights you will uncover. 

While you’re penciling in all of those plans, I am tickled pink to share my mom’s recipe of Sopa de Conchas with you. Granted, it’s become MY version over the years, but she’s still in every bite. I hope you enjoy this dish and all the cultural connections it brings. From my culture to yours. 

Sopa de Conchitas

5 roma tomatoes 
1 sweet onion, divided 
2 to 3 garlic cloves 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
12-ounce package macaroni shells
8 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable broth 
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste 
½ red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips 
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 teaspoon garlic powder 

For Garnish 
2 avocados, peeled and sliced 
1 fresh bunch cilantro, roughly chopped 
½ yellow onion, finely chopped 

Heat oven to broiler setting. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place tomatoes and half the onion, roughly chopped, onto the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, or until tomatoes soften and slightly blacken. 

Add tomatoes, onions, and garlic cloves to a high-speed blender; blend until smooth. Set aside. 

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and shells. Brown shells, occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon. Add remaining finely chopped onion to the pot and brown the shells a bit more. Once the shells are golden brown, carefully pour in blended tomato-onion mixture. Then add your choice of broth. 

Add cumin, garlic powder, bell pepper, salt and pepper. Slightly cover pot with a lid and bring  soup to a gentle bowl. Once the shells are al dente, adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve in bowls topped with cilantro, fresh onion and avocado.

Makes 6 servings

Author

  • Ruthie Landelius

    Ruthie owns Black Fig Food catering and is proprietor of the online cooking platform Elevated Plant Plate. Learn more at blackfigfoodprograms.com and blackfigfood.com.