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‘Gran Cocina Latina’ is an instant classic

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In a seminal essay on the Latin American novel, Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier talked about “culinary context” as one of the essential elements of the region’s fiction. As in his own novels, Carpentier was reaching for that overarching component that made Latin America, well, Latin America.

Maricel E. Presilla titles the first chapter of her 902-page “Gran Cocina Latina” (Norton, $45), “What is Latin America?” The book is an ambitious work that encompasses all Latin American cooking, thus claiming that, say, Mexican pozole soup is of a piece with Ecuadoran ceviche. We are all in this together, Presilla is saying by the very act of writing this book, taking her cue from another Cuban compatriot, Jose Marti, who defined “America” as the parts of the hemisphere where Iberian, not Anglo-Saxon, languages are spoken.

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