by Alyssa Mora
My parents like to tell me stories of my youth. Stories of how quickly I cried if someone other than my mother held me—Delicada, my tía Lety used to call me. Stories of how I toddled around, plump, cherubic, and extremely overweight because of the beans and tortillas my babysitter fed me. The last one always made me laugh. See, I love food and to know I loved it just as much then as I do now is not surprising but certainly amusing. Perhaps it is because I am Mexicana, part of a culture in which food transcends the realm of simple necessity into something magical. Something extravagant and important and so, so comforting.
I hail from Texas, where finding real Mexican food is as easy as turning the corner of your street—and living with my family meant I never had to look much further than my own kitchen. But in New York? For all its diversity, I have not found a restaurant that’s really reminded me of home. I’m sure they exist, and that the apparent lack is due more to the convenience of dining halls and my empty wallet than to availability. But last week I decided to scrounge around my room for spare change, pull up Google Maps, and seek out a sweet reminder of home: pan dulce.
Translated as “sweet bread,” pan dulce comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Perhaps the most widely recognized is are “las conchas”: bread topped with sugar to form, as the name suggests, a shell. Excited about my decision to explore the city in search of a little piece of home, I asked a friend to accompany me. My friend is from Singapore, where she tells me that food is celebrated and adored—much like in Mexico. In fact, we originally bonded over our mutual love for food. Upon showing her a picture of pan dulce, she exclaimed, “Those look like melon pan!” I had never heard of melon pan, so I asked her to explain. She told me that melon pan is a Japanese dessert that she had loved back in Singapore, and, based on the pictures she showed me, extremely similar to pan dulce. So, we set out to Pan-Ya, a Japanese bakery on 3rd Avenue, to see how similar the two desserts really were.
I may or may not have teared up a little when I took the first bite.
They were different in appearance, yet there was something so similar. I wouldn’t say melon pan tastes exactly like a concha, but there were traces of similar flavors and textures. It reminded me of the Mexican bakery a few minutes away from my house— warm, inviting, and familiar. It didn’t matter that I was eating a Japanese dessert in a gigantic city thousands of miles away from home. For a second, I was sitting at my dining table in Texas, taking a bite of a Mexican dessert I now realize I’d taken for granted.
Japan and Mexico are on the opposite sides of the globe, as are Singapore and Texas. But, it’s funny how similar they they can be in their love of food and flavors. My friend shared more with me than a small dessert she was fond of back home. She shared a moment of realization, a moment in which “home” became something more than a place. Home is something I carry with me. Home is wherever I choose to find it, whether that be in a Tex-Mex restaurant or in a Japanese Bakery.