What are churros and where to have them in Miami
It’s perpetual summer in Miami. That bold declaration is just not based on the year-round warm weather. When one thinks of the sunny season, it’s time to make a beeline to the nearest outdoor fair, something Miamians, unlike most of the country, can enjoy everyday no matter what the season. The city’s carnival atmosphere ( meant in a good way) is best on display in the district fondly known as Little Havana.
The neighborhood has everything you’d expect to see at a spirited festival. In place of an animated barker, you have el manisero-a charming Cuban peanut seller with a booming voice engrossed in trading a stack of plump peanuts expertly wrapped in a traditional paper cone for just a mere dollar. Singers and musicians? Little Havana’s permanent and multiple troubadours can run a three-ring circus around the tame entertainment at any other boulevard jamboree. When it comes to food, vendor fare offered at al fresco galas pale in comparison to morsels of Little Havana street cuisine served daily.
Take churros for example. Ask any local and they will inform you, with no hesitation, that churros are superior to their second-fiddle cousin and a fairground favorite, the funnel cake. Sure, both are all about that winning duo of hot crispy dough coated in sugar sweetness but that is where the similarity ends. A funnel cake, as in the famous words of that cool teenager Cher Horowitz, protagonist of the cult film Clueless, is a Monet( as in painting from the master)-“From far away it’s fine, but up close it’s a big old mess!”( she actually said this with much snappy snark about one of her high school rivals-no wonder the movie was a hit)
Churros, on the other hand, are presented as slim, elegant rods of perfectly golden brown pastry that are infinitely more sophisticated than the chaotic, artless appearance of the funnel cake. In any event, the churros are well-loved in Little Havana and the place to have them is none other than at Churromania located right on the main drag of Calle Ocho.
Although it’s a franchise, (first created in Venezuela) which might spell corporate blandness to some, Churromania is incredibly creative as it adds a very Latin American flavor to the traditional Spanish treat. Franchisee, the affable Daniel Lopez ( we all simply call him Danny) explains that while churros may be a stylish delight today, it did have most humble beginnings. “Why have one story when two are always better”, says Danny with a wry grin.
The first tale is that churros were the invention of nomadic Spanish shepards. With no access to fresh baked goods because they lived high up in the hills, the group created the dough by frying it in pans over an open fire. Lending a bit of credibility to this story is that there exists a breed of sheep called “Navajo-Churro” which are descended from the “Churra” sheep of the Iberian peninsula. The shape of the churro resembles the horns of these animals.
The second anecdote is that Portuguese sailors who explored Northern China found a snack called “Yuo Tiao” which looks similar to a churro. They brought it back with them to Portugal and then their neighbors, the Spanish, put their own spin on it by passing the churro through a star shaped tip which gives the churro its signature ridges. And finally, it was the Spanish conquistadors who introduced the churro to Latin America and the rest is history. Since then, the churro has been recreated in many different iterations depending on which Latin American country it comes from.
If you are lucky, you might meet Danny’s partner, the suave Fidel Asis Lopez ( also the owner of several well-loved guayabera shops that dot Little Havana) who has the endearing habit of leaning over your shoulder egging you on to try the Cuban guava-stuffed churros, a morning neighborhood favorite when taken with a sweet cafe cubano. Or, simply stand at the clear plexiglass and watch Danny make different variations to decide.
All churros start out by the dough being fed into the churrera, the machine with the star shaped tip. Once looking all pretty, the strands are set to deep fry until richly bronzed all over. Then make your choice- will it be simply a dusting of plain sugar, or will you go fancier with a heavier cinnamon sugar coating? Or will you let loose and go whole hog by asking for a blanket of chocolate sauce or dulche de leche for an indulgent topping? Whatever you choose, bear this in mind as one more reason that churros are a step above funnel cakes- churros are definitely appropriate for breakfast and dessert, so they aren’t just relegated to an amusement park snack.
And while Miami temperatures rarely dip too low, there are those “cooler” winter days that while we are able to stay comfortably outdoors most of the day, we often need a little warmth to take the chill off our sensitive bones. So, we cozy up to a hot-off-the fryer bag of crunchy churros with a side of comforting chocolate caliente. Because while fiesta-like food might spell only summer, it’s a party 365 days a year in Little Havana no matter what the weather.
By Robyn Webb