How do you say 'delicious'?

June 22, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

"Buen provecho," says Zayda Acosta.

The Spanish expression, which means enjoy your meal, is one Acosta learned growing up in Puerto Rico.

Acosta says "buen provecho" often.

"I love to cook," she says.

Acosta started cooking when she and her husband, Ramon "Ray" Acosta, were married in 1962 - on the same day they graduated from college.

He was in the ROTC program and went into the U.S. Army, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. He later was stationed in Panama while in the Special Forces and later still worked for the Department of Defense. Zayda Acosta's degree was in social sciences.


The couple and their two daughters moved to Washington County in 1985. Both are retired - Zayda Acosta from Head Start.

She volunteers as a Spanish language interpreter, accompanying families to medical appointments, making sure they understand what's being said.

Staff Writer Kate Coleman recently joined Acosta in the home she and her husband moved into a couple of months ago. It looks like they've been there for years. There are welcoming potted flowers at the front door, family photos, beautiful orchids and a couple of prints of their native Puerto Rico. The Acosta home is smaller than their former house and suited to the couple's retirement.

The bright and open kitchen is Zayda Acosta's domain. She prepared more food than she and her husband could eat in a week, shrugging with a laugh that she'll share some with neighbors.

Acosta's cuisine has gone beyond the foods of her childhood. She's taken some cooking classes, including a sushi class through Hagerstown Community College. But the traditional foods of her homeland are the primary fare in her home.

She says she's happy to see that even area supermarkets are selling foods she grew up with, items that weren't available locally a few years ago - plantains, mangoes and cilantro among them. There's a little Hispanic grocery store on Franklin Street in Hagerstown and a larger one in Frederick, Md., Acosta says.

"But one of the problems is people think we (Hispanic people) all eat the same," she adds. "People from Mexico and Guatemala eat a lot of things made out of corn, but back home, we don't do that. The tortillas we eat are from Taco Bell. We cook other things - more with plantains, coconut."

There's a local network of people who grew up in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other Hispanic cultures who call to alert each other when something from home shows up here. A friend recently found a recao plant - similar to cilantro - and delivered it to Acosta's door.

Where did you learn to cook?

My mother was a very good cook, but she wouldn't let anyone get in her kitchen.

But the thing that she taught me was an attitude: to do the best that you can and to present it the best that you can.

I remember the taste of some of the things that she cooked. She never had recipes. She was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But (with) that attitude, you know you really don't need recipes. You do it the best you can, serve it and let the people know - "I was expecting you, and this is what I made for you." And my girls have followed that, too.

Did you let them in your kitchen?

Yes. They tried to write down some of my recipes, because I do like my mom - a little bit of this. And my oldest one is always trying to write down what I mix here. Sometimes I call her back and say, "Do you remember what I put in this?" because I don't remember. I have a granddaughter writing my things now.

Do you have a favorite thing to cook?

I like to cook everything. I like to invent things, create things.

Exciting things. Easy things. Most of the tastes of the things I cook are strong tastes.

How many of the dishes you make are from your native Puerto Rico?

Most of them.

Family stuff your mom made?


Does your family have a favorite recipe?

There are certain things that are very Puerto Rican, like rice with gandules - tiny little beans. They're wonderful. We eat all kinds of beans.

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