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Spanish Food - appropriate nomenclature?

Is it appropriate to call it Spanish food or Latin American Food or Latino food?
what's PC? there are reasons for or against each.

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  1. "Spanish food" is the cuisine of the country Spain, as opposed to the cuisine of one of the many other nations where Spanish is the lingua franca. Latin America refers to many different countries with quite a diversity of cuisines, so it is most appropriate to refer to the relevant country, i.e., Mexican food, Argentinean food, Peruvian food, etc.

    1. Latino is politically correct, but...
      Having spent much of my youth in a Puerto Rican household, and taught in school district that was over 90% Latino, I can tell you that the Spanish speaking Latino community in the United States quite commonly uses "Spanish" to refer to themselves, their culture, and their food. Similarly, Brazilians in the United States will quite often refer to themselves as Portuguese. It's a lot like how Americans might refer to themselves as Italian, Polish, Korean, et cetera.
      As an outsider, your best bet is to use the most specific descriptor you can. Sometimes, as with nuevo-Latino, that will be Latino. More often it will be by country, Chilean, or region, Sonoran.
      Also, keep in mind that South American and Central American are different than Latin American. For one, they exclude Mexico and the Latino Carribean islands. Also, a number of nations in Central and South America are not Latino.

      1 Reply
      1. re: danieljdwyer

        I must say, my experience differs from yours on two fronts:

        1. i'm latino (Colombian) and have never heard anyone from my family network call ourselves 'Spanish'. Only mentioned in the context of (some of) our ancestors coming from Spain.
        2. Never been to Brazil, but have many Brazilian colleagues and never heard them talk about being "Portuguese". In fact, I would venture to guess it would insult them to suggest such a thing...they are fiercely proud of their homeland. Akin to someone calling a caucasian-american "English" (wrong on more than level, I know)

      2. I agree that it's best to refer to it by it's nationality i.e: Mexican, Cuban etc. I am Dominican and the food we eat is very different than Mexican but is similar to Cuban and Puerto Rican, but again different from Venezuelan and other nations.

        1. It's interesting, at least here in my part of NYC, to see restaurants offer when they advertise "Spanish" food. So it's useful to have the explanations above. One place locally says "Spanish food" but is Honduran (great chicken soup). Other "Spanish" places have little else than pre-fried foods held under heat lamps.

          1 Reply
          1. re: comestible

            I never saw Spanish used as a catch-all demonym the way Latino or Hispanic is used until I moved to NYC. I have never been exactly with using anything other than the nationality to describe a particular cuisine; "Latino" food is about as meaningless a descriptor as "European" food.

          2. Here in Miami which has arguably the most diverse community of folks from areas culturally derived from Spain, the general cultural or PC term "Latino" is used much less than "Hispanic." Curiously, everyone else (if he/she is Caucasion) is termed "Anglo," unless you are talking about skin color which has its own terms. None of it really makes any sense. With respect to food, restaurants generally are described by the country of origin; i.e., Cuban, Honduran, etc. unless you mean Peruvian/Chinese vs. Jamaican/Chinese. So many choices, so little time. What we do not have are many Mexican or Mexican regional restaurants. Visitors from elsewhere usually lump it all together and want to avoid all that "spicy" alien food,excepting CHs who know and appreciate the differences. To answer the OPs question, it all depends......

            1 Reply
            1. re: Sinicle

              I lived in Miami for almost seven years, and I cannot recall any food being called Spanish. In fact I only heard the word used in terms of the language or the very, very occasional Spaniard. Most non-Cuban 'Latino' restaurants would proudly display their heritage such as Peruvian. If they didn't then they were probably Cuban. It was the default.

              Latino in Miami definitely excluded Italian, so it had a different meaning to the English word Latin. It was used primarily to describe people of Spanish descent. I didn't know (m)any Brazilians so I don't know if that word was applied to them. And each country was proud of its unique cuisine, such as three-types-of-potato soup from Columbia.

            2. Isn't Spanish food (ie from Spain) completely different from food from the different parts of Latin America?

              1 Reply
              1. re: greedygirl

                Yes. There's really no more similarity than there is between, say, French and Latin American or German and Latin American, which is to say essentially none. It's not entirely clear if the OP was asking about "real" Spanish cuisine.

              2. Depends on what kind of food you're talking about. As others have pointed out, "Spanish" food is the food of Spain. The most "politically" (and gastronomically) correct terminology is to refer to the food by its national or regional origin. Mexican food, or Oaxacan (or other state) food, Salvadoran, Argentinian, Chilean, Cuban, Brazilian.... Whatever. I wouldn't know what someone meant if they said they liked "Hispanic" food. Sort of like "European food" or "Asian food."

                1 Reply
                1. re: Caroline1

                  There are numerous books of Latin American or South American cooking. However most recipes are identified by country. The better ones try to identify regional patterns and variations. Most of the cuisines are a blend of Spanish (colonial), Native, and African traditions, with some later immigrants thrown in (Italian in Argentina, Chinese in Peru, German and Russian in other places etc). Local produce is also an important variable, whether it be the corn and potato like tubers in the Andes, tropical fruits, or local seafood. Cooking has also varied with class and income, some more 'tipico' ('native'), some more like European Continental in style.

                2. I think it is more to do with the significant regional differences in the cuisines of each Latin American countries and Spain than with being PC. It would be like using the term 'European food' as a general name for Spanish, British, French, Italian etc which have very little to do with one another apart from the fact that they are randomly connected by geography. Of course in the case of Latin America, many countries share similarities not just in language but also in culinary traditions. However, a common name for the food would be a sweeping generalisation so as others have pointed out, it's always best to specify the country or region of origin when it comes to food.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: Paula76

                    Agree and it even comes to when I meet people mostly Americans and Latin-Americans. they would actually ask me if I am "Spanish" and I explain I am not from Spain, I am Hispanic (specifically Panamanian), and then people insist and "correct" me saying ohh, well "Spanish" the same... and I say no because Americans speak English and they are not English, Brazilian speak Portuguese and they are not Portuguese, in fact I've met Portuguese who wouldn't like you calling Brazilians that or viceversa... it's quite a sensitive thing, I learned to ingore it now that I live here, I got bored with correcting people.

                    On the other hand the food... I can say that Panama's food is very different from Colombia'as and Costa Rica, it could be because of the division.. Costa Rica goes on Central American Cuisine and Colombia goes into South American... but then Panama has a little of both plus Caribbean...

                    I would stake to specifying the country or region of origin when it comes to food as well.


                    1. re: helenahimm

                      Where in the heck have you encountered anyone equating "Spanish" with someone from Latin America? I never encountered that growing up with Latinos in California, with my relatives in Peru (and Brasil), nor over the many years here in Colombia.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        In my experience, it happens all the time in the U.S. I see restaurants featuring Chinese-Spanish food, when the "Spanish" component is Caribbean. Well, then, my grandmother (now dead) called anyone who spoke Spanish as a first language (including my husband) "Mexican". She just didn't know better.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I see. But, do Americans diss people saying that they're (as per the example) Panamanian, by responding, "Oh you're Spanish'". That is, do Americans lump people from Spain and people from Latin America??? I could see some Americans lumping everyone as Mexican, but Spanish????

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I think this usage in the US, whether by Latinos of whatever national heritage themselves (see danieljdwyer's post above) or restaurants of various kinds in NYC (see comistible and JungMann's posts as well as MMRuth's), or the Americans responding to helenahimm, derives from the common language rather than an identification with the nation. Now, to me, "Spanish" as a catchall for Spanish-speaking countries/persons, in other words, rather than meaning of or from Spain in particular.

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              Wow, I didn't think this question would get such a great response.

                              I am referring to countries South America and central and Mexico, I guess. Not Spain. although Spain is similar in some respects.

                              so which countries in S america aren't Latin American? Guyana, trinidad & tob, and in C - belize?

                              This is all very interesting. I'm in NYC/Long Island and it is very common to see signs that say SPANISH FOOD on Latin American places. Some people said that was incorrect, but then I hear Latinos saying Spanish Food all the time. Maybe this is a regional thing...

                              I don't think hispanic works at all, and I even think that term is being phased out. Even latin american is being phased out in favor of latino/a, I believe.

                              and I think it's possible to generalize cuisines like south asian might refer to Pak, india, bangladesh. I agree that calling places by their actual country is best, but some places might be a hybrid of cultures from latin america - is that Fusion(I hate that word)? Also, although different in some ways, there are similarities with the ingredients. I guess I am looking for a term for the broader category. Thanks so much everyone.

                              1. re: Jeffsayyes

                                In South America, Guyana and Suriname are definitely not Latin American (also the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands). French Guiana is debatable. A Romance language is spoken there, which technically does qualify it as Latin American, but the culture is better grouped with the Afro-Caribbean nations and dependencies (some others of which could also arguably be called Latin American).
                                In Central America, you're right that it's just Belize That is not Latin American. However, there is a substantial, sometimes dominant, Afro-Caribbean population in all but El Salvador, on the Caribbean coasts. In Nicaragua, even though the population of the whole nation is over three quarters Latino, most of the sparsely populated east coast of the nation is Afro-Caribbean.
                                The Caribbean Islands are a pretty thorough mix of cultures, with the Greater Antilles being the easiest to label as Latin American. Even this is arguable, however, particularly in the case of Haiti.

                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              I think Americans who make that mistake are equating these immigrants' identity with their language. Many in this category of Americans are probably not very well acquainted with the country Spain. Unless you follow soccer, gastronomy, European politics, or you enjoy travel, Spain is more off-the-radar than Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, etc.

                              1. re: Agent Orange

                                Again, it's not US Americans that are calling these Latinos Spanish. It's the Latinos themselves. I don't know how common this is nationwide, but in the Northeast, it's ubiquitous.

                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                  Interesting. Well, I definitely know many non-Hispanics (here in Florida) who use the term. Perhaps it came into common use after people from Latin American employed it. I cannot recall any instance of a Hispanic calling themselves Spanish; usually they refer to themselves by their nationality. But I won't question your claim that it gets thrown around a lot up North and possibly in my neck of the woods as well.

                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                    Yep. I saw (heard) the same thing in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in D.C., a primarily Salvadorian immigrant community. I do wonder if it's acceptable to do this as a member of the community, but not as someone outside it. Like any number of incorrect/objectionable terms that groups take back for themselves.

                              2. re: MMRuth

                                My Spanish hairdresser said everyone assumed he was Mexican when visiting California, even other Hispanic people.

                                In England, you'd never refer to a Latin-American cuisine as Spanish. Always by the country of origin. But then we don't have nearly as many people from Latin-America here, and Spain is a lot closer!

                        2. I guess this is a lost battle because as I mentioned before even Hispanics would use the word "Spanish" to define their cuisine or nationality as I've read.

                          Me I don't even like the word "Latino" since it means "Male LatinAmerican" So when someone asks me that I don't appreciate it and correct the person... at the beginning (please don't take this as something offensive) I thought people just like to say words in other languages... and Latino sounds more exotic than "Latin" or Hispanic or anything, just like people like to use the word "Salsa Verde" to describe something when they could just translate it to "Green Sauce".I know I know Latino comes from Latin America that in Spanish is Latinoamérica and so Latino is the short of it for English if you say it Spanish I guess.... but then again if you are saying it in Spanish then you just called me a guy... lol

                          This is probably very silly of me it just takes me time... Again even the hispanic community call themselves "Spanish" or Latinos I've seen it on Univision channels and etc... so enjoy it and I really doubt anyone would feel any offended at this point.

                          Peace =)