You can stand working next to people for ages without knowing some pretty amazing things about their lives.
This happened to me with my friend and coworker Rhina. She came over a few weeks back with her daughter Mildred to teach me how to make pupusas, a traditional food from El Salvador.
A corn dough made from maseca and stuffed with anything from beef, to pork, vegetables, beans or cheese, Pupusas are a dish Rhina has been making for years. Before Mildred arrived, I asked Rhina how long she’s been making pupusas. Assuming she’d say she made them at family gatherings and holidays, I found out that for 15 years, every Saturday and Sunday, Rhina made and sold about 1500 pupusas in the park in Flushing, Queens. That on top of her work all week long in the city.
She started small but as word spread, people in the El Salvadoran community came to the park every weekend to watch soccer and queue up to buy her handcrafted griddled snacks.
Thousands upon thousands of pupusas later, she ends up in my kitchen. When you get to learn from the best, there is something unique in the way hands deftly create a recipe.
As Rhina began to explain the process, how the soft the dough ought to be, how to carefully wrap the masa around the filling and gently form it back into a patty, that little firecracker in her came out! Passing them back and forth between her hands, the sound of the dough slapping pat-pat-pat, I knew before I even bit through the golden crust into the salty, melted cheese that Rhina was making magic.