(Saint-Césaire) Much more than in Quebec, Easter has retained its religious character in Latin America, so much so that we still fully feel its influence on the plates. More numerous every year on Quebec farms and factories, Latino workers bring their culinary traditions with them. At El Rancho Latino in Saint-Césaire, dishes typical of the Easter period are in the spotlight. Visit and tasting!
Opened in 2017 in Saint-Césaire, El Rancho Latino has become the meeting place par excellence for foreign workers from factories and farms in the center of Montérégie – and not just during the Easter celebrations! During peak season, as many as 700 workers converge here on payday Thursdays to sample the cuisine of Gilda Valiente and Antonio Salazar.
For the Guatemalan-born restaurateur, seeing Latino workers happy is her reason for being, it’s what touches her heart. Arrived in Quebec 41 years ago with her family, Ms. Valiente indeed offers a Latin American culinary experience that we rarely see here. But it first made a name for itself by delivering its dishes directly to farms. “I started around Marieville, where I lived,” she recalls. But then I realized that many workers were passing through Saint-Césaire to buy groceries and go to the bank. I thought this would be the perfect place to open a small grocery store selling Latino products and a money transfer counter. »
However, the catering component was added almost immediately in response to the growing demand for this authentic Latin American cuisine. During Lent, this translates to fish and seafood dishes – some will eat chicken, but the more pious will stick to seafood.
“In Mexico, all the seafood restaurants are full during the Easter period,” says Gilda Valiente. During this period, seafood cocktails, shrimp tacos, fish and fried fish fingers are very popular. In Guatemala, we eat fish coated in egg and then fried whole, all served in sauce; it is the typical Easter meal. »
At El Rancho Latino, aquachile is very popular during the pre-Easter period, a cocktail of prawns and cucumbers full of freshness – we give you the recipe in the next tab. Also popular are the breaded shrimp tacos, a dish that is the specialty of Antonio Salazar, who arrived in Quebec four years ago as a seasonal worker but stayed after finding love with Gilda Valiente. “I met him when I was delivering meals to the farm where he worked,” she tells us. We got married and he’s been helping me in the kitchen ever since; he has added several Mexican items to the menu. »
These include pulled pork and pineapple tacos, as well as beef and cheese tacos, two dishes that are not eaten on Good Friday, but which are eaten for Sabado de Gloria – the main celebration for many Latin Americans. . “Saturday of Glory, that’s when we’re going to start eating meat again,” says Gilda Valiente. Everyone goes to the beach and it’s party time. But we must avoid chicanery, we do not use vulgar language, we must show the greatest respect. »
The toughest judges are, of course, foreign workers, who make up almost 55% of El Rancho Latino’s clientele – that was almost 90% when the restaurant opened six years ago. “It has to be done well because the agricultural worker who arrives, he is used to the meals of his country,” says Gilda Valiene. And a Mexican who comes to eat here converts to pesos, so if the price isn’t right, he won’t come back. So the restaurateur doesn’t shy away from asking for advice and recommendations from her Latino customers, which is why she sources her supplies directly from importers in Latin America – she doesn’t skimp on dried chili peppers from Mexico, which are, it seems, the secret of the taste of the birria of El Rancho Latino.
The ingredients used in the kitchen can also be found in the grocery section of the establishment, which is due to expand soon: the adjacent space will accommodate more displays for grocery products in addition to the cash transfer counter, which should allow to add a few tables in the dining room, for a total of more than 40 places, in addition to twenty on the terrace. This should also free up some space in the restaurant, especially on Thursdays, when the queue can stretch to the outside of the store. Gilda Valiente recommends that visitors come on Fridays or Saturdays for a friendlier experience.
El Rancho Latino is like a slice of Latin America in the heart of Montérégie. “The workers meet here to see the cousins and friends who are on other farms in the region, says Gilda Valiente. They have a good time together, it is often the only time they can see each other, because we must not forget that they are here to work. »
Closely inspired by a tradition from Spain, the torrejas is on the menu almost everywhere in Latin America during the Lenten period. It’s actually French toast coated in a whipped egg mixture, then lightly fried and served in a generous amount of brown sugar syrup seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. “It’s really a popular dessert in Latin customs, my mother just served it to us last weekend, says Gilda Valiente. Ideally, slices of stale baguette are used, it’s almost like French toast. There’s a variation in Mexico called capirotada, which is cooked the same way, but like a bread pudding topped with nuts, seeds, fruit, and sometimes also aged cheese. According to tradition, the bread would represent the body of Christ, the spiced syrup represents his blood, the cloves symbolize the nails and whole cinnamon sticks represent the cross.
A typical Latin American recipe, shrimp are marinated in lime juice prepared with hot peppers, coriander and spices, like a ceviche. Fresh and fragrant, it is one of the dishes par excellence of the Easter period in Latin America, but it is also the ideal dish to welcome the good weather.