International food in Memphis tells a story of culture and identity

Christian Logan sits at a table in his restaurant, Rincon Catratcho [Honduran Corner] with his son who often helps with cooking. They have owned the restaurant for two years.

When Christian Logan arrived in the U.S. he spent four years living with his sister and working in an Italian restaurant in Boston. When his wife was able to join him in America, he moved his family to Memphis because of the cheaper cost of living not knowing that his restaurant experience would come in handy.

“My wife was always the one who liked to cook the delicious Honduran food,” Logan said.

Food Tells a Story

The baleada is one of the most common dishes at Rincon Catratcho, and is Logans favorite Honduran food. A baleada is a thick, homemade tortilla with seasoned refried beans, egg, queso duro [hard cheese], and meat.

Logan’s wife cooks authentic Honduran foods with ingredients such beans, heavy creams, spices, and homemade tortillas. When she moved to the U.S., she wanted a way to share her food and culture, but found it difficult in a new culture with a foreign language. But thanks to her husbands’ previous experience and a large Hispanic population in Memphis, they found a way.

Christian Logan and his wife now own the restaurant, Rincon Catratcha in Memphis.

While it may seem necessary to travel abroad to experience culture, Logan and his wife are an example of the international culture manifesting itself in cities in the U.S.

Many Spanish-speaking families learn about Memphis culture, the process of adapting, and language through through nonprofits such as Su Casa Memphis. Emily Noblett, the program director of Su Casa says that families like Logans often struggle to find a way to share their culture while simultaneously learning about their new culture.

“Culture and language affect everything in their lives,” Noblett said. “It’s not a couple months that they are put in a new culture— most of them are here to stay

Logan and his family live in the 38108 area code of Memphis, a community of Spanish-speakers.

“Before we opened this restaurant, it was a Mexican restaurant,” Logan said. “Because there are so many Mexicans and Hondurans in this part of town, you really don’t even have to know English to get around here.”

The cultural diversity in Memphis doesn’t stop at Spanish-speakers.

“People don’t realize that the nations are right here in Memphis; you don’t even have to go to another country,” said Noblett.

“I can’t remember much as a kid, but I know we brought our food to the U.S as a means of cultural preservation.” — Christine Lemassi, U of M student

An example of someone who moved to Memphis from a different country is Christine Lemassi, a student at the University of Memphis who moved to the U.S. from Cameroon, West Africa as a child.

“I can’t remember much as a kid, but I know we brought our food to the U.S as a means of cultural preservation,” said Lemassi.

Lemassi holds on to the few memories she still has from Cameroon. Traditional food is a way for her to enjoy time with her family and remember her culture.

“It’s not really the same here [in the U.S.] because of the change of environment, but every time I eat some thing like Ndole it brings up memories of the women in the kitchen cooking and singing and the children running around and playing,” Lemassi said. “Sometimes I wish I could go back in time as an adult now to talk to the women and listen to them sing stories.”

The problem is that once people like Lemassi become apart of American culture, their culture tends to fall by the wayside.

As a part of the work of Su Casa, they often share traditional meals and hold cooking classes as a way of sharing and remembering the different cultures represented.

“We don’t want to just push American culture at internationals. It is important to share in their culture, and food is a great way of doing that,” Noblett said.

Another example is Alex Torres who is a study abroad student at the University of Memphis. He said his friends often call him “Americanized” because he speaks English. His Spanish culture, however, often clashes with American culture especially when it comes to food.

In Spain, lunch is around 3 p.m. and dinner around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. When his American friends are ready for lunch, Alex is just getting ready for a cafe con leche [coffee with milk].

“Everything we do revolves around food and drink,” Torres said. “It is how we form our community and our social life.”

Torres, who is studying at the University of Memphis for a year, misses Spanish food and the memories it brings.

“I remember as a kid peeling shrimp with my grandfather and we would end up eating way too much,” Torres said. “Every time I eat shrimp now I remember those times with him.”

Similar to Torres, Logan also misses his home country. He remembers eating Tamales every Christmas in Honduras.

“Tamales are common for most other Latin American countries, and it is a way that we come together here in Memphis,” Logan said.

Food is one way culture can be enjoyed and shared in any part of the world. Cultures like Torres’, Logan’s, and Lemassis each have famous dishes and flavors, and they each tell a personal story.

“Food is very important because it represents happiness and community among those whom you’ve decided to share with,” Lemassi said. “Food brings us together.”

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About the Author

Hannah Johnson
Hannah Johnson has traveled to many Spanish speaking countries to study and volunteer. Because of her passion for diversity and different cultures she is covering the “International Reflections” section of the Memphis Mirror. You can usually find her practicing Spanish, reading any book she can get her hands on, writing blogs, and spending time with friends from around the world.

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