Posted on December 29th, 2015

Birthdays, dates, weddings, holidays, and parties… you name it, each time we celebrate a significant occasion, we think about what we are going to eat. Food is something that all humans share and it also plays a significant role in the exchange of culture and learning about other traditions and customs. Case in point…

Participants of Intercambio, a language and cultural exchange program run by Somerville Arts Council, finished the 2015 fall sessions last week. After practicing and trading language skills since October, we celebrated the end of the program with a multicultural potluck held at La Cantina Mexicana. The result was a global menu, including Middle East spreads, Mexican guacamole and tamales, Haitian pastries, Nigerian coconut rice, Irish vegetables, and banana bread from the good ole U.S. of A. Intercambio’s multicultural cooks introduced their dishes by talking about ingredients and recipes, proving that food is the common language we share.


Intercambio participants, who hailed from Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil, Haiti, and USA, at La Cantina Mexicana in Union Square.

For some participants, cooking for a large group was something new. “I will try to cook a delicious natilla,” said Gloria, a Colombian who just came to Somerville a couple of months ago. Others chose to turn to the pros: Barbara, who partnered with Jean LaCourte to practice Haitian Creole, relied on a favorite Somerville restaurant to obtain Haitian patties—baked puff pastry-type pastries filled with savory fillings. Other participants cooked a familiar recipe, from baked ziti, an Italian–American dish cooked by Joe, to a flan, a fave sweet treat popular in Europe, Central and South America that Ada cooked like a expert pastry chef!

2015-12-27 09.23.13

Clockwise from above: Haitian patties; Latino flan. Down: Irish vegetables.


What we learned

  • The Aztecs created guacamole, and according to Maria, to this day in Mexico, it is traditionally made with a molcajete, a heavy stone tool.
  • “Coconut rice is not sweet,” said Andrea. It is a savory dish prepared with coconut flakes found in many cultures, from South Asia to the Caribbean.
  • The smell, taste, and texture of food can bring back memories. For Kathleen, cooking banana bread reminds her of her grandmother.
  • In Joe’s family baked ziti recipe, you can “customize” by adding one or two unique ingredients. He added home-grown red peppers this time!
  • Natilla, a sweet custard, is traditionally served during Colombian Christmas gatherings.

More about Intercambio

“At Intercambio immigrants learn and practice English language with native speakers,” says Intercambio Program Coordinator Maria Fernanda Martínez, a native of Toluca, Mexico. “At the same time, they teach others their native language. We also talk about traditions, share stories and connect to each other as part of the Somerville community.”

This round of “Intercambians,” not only got to practice past tenses and the colloquial expressions, they did so in a friendly, supportive community. “We traded language skills and built relationships across cultures” said Joe, a Graduate Tufts student who practices Spanish.

Thanks everyone who participated in this SAC program. The Nibble team wishes you happy holidays and we look forward to writing more about food and diversity next year. If you’re interested in joining our next Intercambio session, fill out this form and send an email to Maria Martinez. Her email is: