I’m delighted to welcome back Raquel V. Reyes! Mango, Mambo, and Murder comes out on October 12th — next Tuesday so preorder it now! And I love this post. Since I was lucky enough to read an ARC of Mango, Mambo, and Murder I was so curious about Raquel’s protagonist. I know you will find her explanation as fascinating as I did.
Your main character is a what? A Food Anthropologist.
By Raquel V. Reyes
Hi, it’s me, Raquel V. Reyes, debut author. Sherry Harris has asked me to elaborate on Mango, Mambo, and Murder’s main character’s field of study because many readers might not have heard of the profession.
Dr. Miriam Quiñones is an anthropologist who concentrates on the gastronomic history of humans. This is how Wikipedia defines it: “Anthropology of food is a sub-discipline of anthropology that connects an ethnographic and historical perspective with contemporary social issues in food production and consumption systems.” I like to describe what Miriam does as the intersection of food, history, and culture.
Have you ever wondered why your family eats a particular food like lutefisk/Norwegian fermented whitefish or fu ru /Chinese fermented tofu? Or when someone figured out cooking a potato made it nutritious instead of dangerous? FYI raw potatoes cause nausea because of the toxin solanine. Did you know potatoes originated in the Andes and that there are over five thousand varieties? Miriam Quiñones wonders about all of that and more. Her area of study is the Caribbean, with a special focus on the African influences of the cuisine.
Many staples of Caribbean foodways came to the islands with or because of enslaved Africans. The plantation owners needed cheap sustenance for their enslaved workers. Those foods were plantains, mangoes, okra, callaloo (a leafy green similar to spinach), pigeon peas, and salt fish, to name a few. Before the colonist decimated the indigenous Tainos (either by diseases or swords), cultural knowledge of cooking techniques was shared. Barbacoa, from which we get the American word barbecue, was the Taino name for a raised grate on which to cook and smoke meats.
Miriam and her creator love this type of stuff. I can spend hours watching culinary documentaries like Stephan Satterfield’s High on the Hog, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. So, when it came to character development for the series, I knew my main character had to have interests that I would enjoy researching. The series is set in Miami because it is the gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. I am lucky to live in such a diverse city where I can eat the cuisines I write about. Just last night, I had Haitian fried fish, and my husband had Jamaican jerk chicken. Our grocery store has fresh and local callaloo. Guava, mango, avocado, plantains, and a host of other tropical fruits and veggies grow here with little effort. Be friendly to your neighbors, and your pot will always be full. I rarely buy mangoes because friends will leave them as gifts on my doorstep when they are in season.
I hope this has whet your appetite for Caribbean food and Mango, Mambo, and Murder. What is your favorite Caribbean dish? Have you visited the islands or Miami? What foods did you try?
Bio: Raquel V. Reyes writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. Her short stories appear in various anthologies, including Mystery Most Theatrical, Midnight Hour, and Trouble No More. Mango, Mambo, and Murder is the first in the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. Find her across social media platforms as @LatinaSleuths.
Here’s more about the book:
Cuban-American cooking show star Miriam Quiñones-Smith becomes a seasoned sleuth in Raquel V. Reyes’s Caribbean Kitchen Mystery debut, a savory treat for fans of Joanne Fluke and Jenn McKinlay.
Food anthropologist Miriam Quiñones-Smith’s move from New York to Coral Shores, Miami, puts her academic career on hold to stay at home with her young son. Adding to her funk is an opinionated mother-in-law and a husband rekindling a friendship with his ex. Gracias to her best friend, Alma, she gets a short-term job as a Caribbean cooking expert on a Spanish-language morning TV show. But when the newly minted star attends a Women’s Club luncheon, a socialite sitting at her table suddenly falls face-first into the chicken salad, never to nibble again.
When a second woman dies soon after, suspicions coalesce around a controversial Cuban herbalist, Dr. Fuentes–especially after the morning show’s host collapses while interviewing him. Detective Pullman is not happy to find Miriam at every turn. After he catches her breaking into the doctor’s apothecary, he enlists her help as eyes and ears to the places he can’t access, namely the Spanish-speaking community and the tawny Coral Shores social scene.
As the ingredients to the deadly scheme begin blending together, Miriam is on the verge of learning how and why the women died. But her snooping may turn out to be a recipe for her own murder.
I love this topic, Raquel! I have visited Puerto Rico twice (my son lives on an eco farm there!) and St. John once. I absolutely love the abundance of fruits. I know I ate delicious seafood but can’t remember what. I wish someone would leave mangoes on my porch here in New England. I’m a little late, but your book is on my list.
Edith I love PR. My in-laws live there and we are desperate to get back for a visit. I miss it.
I’ve been to quite a few of the islands as stops on cruises but we usually like to try some of the foods of the places we visit. I can’t remember the names except for Jerk Chicken when we were in Jamaica. Spent a week in San Juan a few years a ago and while in Old Town went to this little restaurant on a side street and had their special which was so good followed by the best best Flan ever.
Good flan is an art. Baño de Maria / steam is key to the silky texture.
I have been to Miami but would love to see the islands! I don’t think I’ve had any Caribbean foods, other than a delicious jerk chicken in Orlando. I’ll have to check out some recipes.
There are so many great youtube channels. I suggest you check out a few. I like Cooking with Omi and Simply Haitian.
Welcome back and thank you for this informative post! I’ve been to Miami for one overnight and would love to visit for longer. To Puerto Rico once — it’s so beautiful. My sister lives in Seattle and there’s an amazing little Caribbean restaurant near her. The jerk chicken along with black beans and rice are the best I’ve had. Now I’m hungry.
Thanks for this informative post! So important to know the history and understand the culture that creates the food we love. In addition, the book is great fun!!!!
How very informative and interesting, thank you Raquel! I have been to Florida once, but we drove down to Key West and did not stop in Miami. However, we were blessed to live for a while next door to a family where the wife was from Brazil and the husband from Cuba. They shared many delightful and delicious dishes with us that I now have in our recipe files to cook.
Love this, Raquel, and congratulations on your upcoming book birthday! I have definitely pre-ordered. Wouldn’t miss it.
I lived in Miami for over 40 years, and South Florida for an additional 10. I also lived in and around the Caribbean for a number of years using Miami as my base camp. Yes, bring on the Caribbean food. Ackee and saltfish for me! Plantains and batido de trigo, roast pig – conch – all yum. Now that I live in northern Maine, I’m fairly limited to black beans and rice, but sometimes I can score frozen guanabana. Someday I’ll get over my fear of pressure cookers and learn to make flan!
Haven’t had a lot of Caribbean food, but happened upon a wonderful restaurant not too far away that serves Dominican Republican food. Wow, is that stuff great!
Congratulations, Raquel, on your book! I love your sleuth’s background and interests. My favorite Caribbean/tropical food is passion fruit. I’ve found it in South Florida markets and envy anyone who lives where it grows. I enjoy eating it as is and also as sorbet.
It’s never something I’ve given much thought to, but now I’m curious about it. A creative background for a sleuth for sure.
Welcome to the blog, and congratulations on the book, which I’ve pre-ordered and can’t wait to read. I love the idea of a food anthropologist. What a great way into a cozy series. As for food, I’m fortunate to have a Jamaican branch of the family, so I’ve had many different dishes. Cod fish cakes and patties are two of my favorites. I’ve yet to be able to recreate them perfectly myself, but I’m trying. What I really love is learning recipes along with family stories from people. When I teach my nieces how to make an apple pie, I tell them about my grandmother and how she taught me. We pass on more than recipes for sure. Congratulations again.
Wonderful post, Raquel! Food is one of the most mouth-watering (figuratively and literally) aspects of culture – thanks for bringing this to the fore. I love Caribbean cuisine – the seafood, curries, tropical fruit salsas and slaws, and jerk anything. Can’t wait to read about Miriam!
I love jerk chicken
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