The Everyday Glories of the Menú del Día
Food that soothes the soul, friendly chatter, and a place to escape
At neighborhood Latin restaurants throughout the Hispanic world, there is a lunch special called the menú del día. The exact contents change according to the particular restaurant and cuisine, but the format is typically this: A bowl of meaty soup suitable as a whole meal, followed by a main course of meat or fish and a giant portion of rice and beans. You also get a side of something like plantains or yuca, and a forgettable salad. If you’re lucky, it will start with an appetizer and end with coffee and dessert. In the States, this will usually cost you around twelve or fourteen dollars. A meal like this, eaten slowly at a good lunch counter, is revitalizing.
I’m not sure why this hasn’t become a mainstream part of American lunch culture, but it’s probably due to two things. One: Chefs and food writers have shone a spotlight on every kind of restaurant and cuisine in The United States, but many people still stereotype authentic Latin restaurants as dives. Two: In The United States, most people aim for speed and convenience at lunch rather than the full revitalization that comes from a long, multi-course meal. Something quick and portable, like a sandwich, better serves this purpose. But I think this is a mistake, because most of us could benefit enormously from a long lunch. We are all stressed, and when it comes to self-care we are a lot more likely to sit and eat than to meditate. I know I am.
For the longest time, I worked at a residential foster care program in Newburgh, NY, home to many neighborhood Latin restaurants. While my coworkers waited at the fax machine for the daily specials list from Pizza Mia or put together a group order for Panera, I slipped out to find a Latin lunch counter, where I’d bunker down and fill my belly. I would have taken people with me, but comments from co-workers turned me off.
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