used to be very shy when it came to
going into restaurants and trying cuisines
that I had not known, being a youth
who came from a tiny town called Diamond
When I moved to Key West in 1973, one
of the places that caught, not my eye,
but my nose was El Cacique. It was on
lower Duval, which was a very tin-hip
place back then. I loved that.
The people who were in El Cacique were
the working class shopkeepers, cops,
fishermen, and other "regular joes”
of the funky island town back then.
The door was opening as I walked past
one day and this heavenly fragrance
of cooking came my way. The aroma of
Cuban cooking-redolent of cumin, garlic,
pork, beans and citrus-stretched out
to me. My stomach tightened as I inhaled
this heaven. I set aside my shyness
and took a seat at the counter. One
of the three Cuban girls came and asked
me in Spanish what I was having. I asked
her what smelled so good and she smiled,
switched to English and said, “maybe
you smell the Caldo Gallego. It’s our
They brought me a steaming bowlful and
a side order of toasted Cuban bread.
There were white beans dominating the
bowl, but the flavors of beef, pork,
chicken stock, potatoes, and garlic
all came to life. I loved it and the
whole world seemed to go away as I sank
into its dream for a Coleridge-like
time. White Bean Soup would never be
the same. As I greedily finished sopping
the last of it with my bread the girl
came back and told me with a smile,
“I guess you’ll be back.” Yes, I will,
many times, even if I have to only pretend.
I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my word
Norman Van Aken and thats my
word on food.
Copyright © by Norman Van Aken,
consulted: Memory Lane.