UW News

November 30, 2017

New textbook teaches Spanish language, culture through talk of food

UW News

Ana Gómez-Bravo created a class about Spanish food and culture a few years ago as a way to teach the language, but found no appropriate textbook for the material — so she wrote one herself.

"Comida y cultura en el mundo hispánico" — "Food and Culture in the Hispanic World" -- by Ana Gómez-Bravo, UW professor of Spanish, was published by Equinox books in October. The book uses food as a doorway to understanding Spanish language and culture.

“Comida y cultura en el mundo hispánico” — “Food and Culture in the Hispanic World” — by Ana Gómez-Bravo, UW professor of Spanish, was published by Equinox books in October. The book uses food as a doorway to understanding Spanish language and culture.

Gómez-Bravo is a professor in the Spanish & Portuguese Studies Department. Her book “Comida y cultura en el mundo hispánico” Food and Culture in the Hispanic World” — was published in October by Equinox Publishing.

The book is designed to serve advanced high school students and those taking third- and fourth-year Spanish at the university level. It’s the first such textbook to use food as the starting point from which to help students learn the language and acquire cultural literacy.

A holiday recipe: ‘roscón de Reyes’ – a ring-shaped cake with a surprise inside

Ana Gómez-Bravo, author of “Food and Culture in the Hispanic World,” says “roscón de reyes,” or “rosca de reyes,” is “a leavened cake shaped like a ring with a hidden figure — originally a fava bean, today a ceramic figure — in it.”

The cake, she said,  “is traditionally eaten the morning of January 6, after the Three Magi (Three Kings) have delivered their presents in Spain and Latin American countries like Mexico.”

There are various traditions regarding what the recipient of the hidden figure then must do, she explained: “Pay for a meal, throw a party by a certain date, or, more traditionally, be the ‘king’ for the day or a number of days.

“The tradition stems from Roman times, when the king favored a poor child or member of his entourage and gave him favors. It has been a strong tradition in Spain since the Middle Ages and early on in Latin American countries.”

Here a version from King Arthur Flour, and here is one from TheSpruce.com — both similar to her own.

Gómez-Bravo, who has taught Spanish for years and has led study-abroad student tours to Spain, said the book’s inspiration flowed from both of those experiences.

“Teaching culture through the lens of food enables the discussion of many different topics in the classroom,” she said, “from literature and social and cultural issues to the environment, religion and politics.

“Food is a common interest that all students share and understand is an important part of any culture. The book allows them to learn more about all of these important topics while discovering the world around them in ways that they find surprising and engaging.”

Each chapter has a reading on a key topic — Aztec food practices, for instance — followed by shorter sections covering “concepts or artifacts” related to the main topic. All chapters include color photographs, literary texts and suggestions of video, audio and web links where students can learn more.

The chapter titles show a wide diversity of topics: “Dietary Laws and Religious persecution,” “Movie Food: Cultural Identities,” “Chocolate and the Aztec World,” “Central America and the Mayan Contributions,” “Cooking and Intercultural Relationships,” “Carnivores and Vegetarians,” “Gastronomic Maps: Spain” and more.

This is the third book by Gómez-Bravo; her first two were about another specialty of hers — the study of 15th century poetry.

An accomplished cook in her own right, Gómez-Bravo said in a 2012 departmental faculty profile that she owns hundreds of cookbooks. She said when she moved to the UW from Purdue University in 2012 she got rid of many books, “but all the cookbooks came with me. You never get rid of a cookbook.”


For more information, contact Gómez-Bravo at 206-685-1426 or agbravo@uw.edu.