For many families, the ultimate form of connection happens in the kitchen — the foods, flavors, smells, and traditions that take place around a kitchen counter, are what bring loved ones together across borders and across generations.
That is especially true for immigrants, who often leave everything behind in search of a better life, bringing only their memories, their rituals, and their recipes with them.
The co-founders of Abuela’s Counter feel this deep in their souls.
Abuela’s Counter is the brand-new, foodie-focused website and Instagram account you need in your life. The Cuban-American entrepreneurs behind the operation are building a community of food-lovers who, like them, learned important life lessons at their Abuelas’ counters.
Bringing Cuban Food and Cuban Connections to Life for a New Generation
Ani Mezerhane and Cristina Bustamante – two Miami-based Latinas who come from Cuban families – came up with the concept of Abuela’s Counter when bonding over their shared love of food and their deep obsession with all things delicious, especially the traditional Cuban dishes they grew up with. But, to them, food is about more than just what sustains you physically; it’s equally about what fills your soul. It’s what connects them to their roots, their ancestors, and to where they came from.
They realized that they can’t be the only Cuban Americans who spent the bulk of their childhood absorbing crucial nuggets of wisdom – the importance of family, never forget where you came from, and always include raisins in picadillo (we know this is an ongoing debate for many Cubans), how to craft a perfect croqueta, and more – from their Abuelas at the kitchen counter.
Abuela’s Counter is all about teaching followers how to make traditional Cuban dishes with a modern spin. The concept is that Cuban cooking can be intimidating – possibly because recipes can take a lot of time and patience and possibly because your grandmother never actually taught you how to make her specialties – and they want to help people connect to their Cuban roots through cooking.
Food as a Love Language for Latinas
“Cuban culture is a very mothering culture. It’s all about our mothers and Abuelas taking care of everything and taking care of us, not just with love, but also with food. Food is our love language,” explains Ani to BELatina News.
“So, in many cases, our generation never really learned to cook, because it was always something that our relatives did for us. That’s intimidating, trying to re-make those recipes.” And it’s not just about the actual methods and recipes, but also the emotions behind these dishes. “The myths and the legends that surround these dishes can be very intimidating to try to recreate,” Cristina added.
What if you try to make a traditional dish you grew up eating, but you mess it up? Or what if your Abuela never showed you how to make it and you have to start from scratch? It can certainly feel overwhelming, which is a common sentiment that Abuela’s Counter is hoping to tackle one flan at a time.
After all, food and all of the senses that go along with it can take us back to our childhoods and help us bond with family members of all generations. The traditions in the kitchen are what bring us all together, and that’s never been more true than for families of immigrants. “No matter what we do, it always comes back to food. It all goes back to sitting at Abuela’s counter and learning about life. Learning how food doesn’t just feed us but brings us together,” Ani and Cristina say on their website.
On their Instagram page, they offer easy-to-follow recipes, and how-to videos showcasing simple ways to whip up Cuban masterpieces. From Guava Coconut Cookies to Ropa Vieja to Arroz Con Pollo, Cuban Flan, and everything in between, they’re taking the mystery out of the equation so anyone can make these dishes.
Their recipes are broken down in detail on their website. There are no secret steps or mysterious quantities (did you ever notice how older generations always add “a pinch” of this or “a splash” of that?). Just easy to follow, simple, step-by-step recipes of classic favorites that have probably been haunting you since birth. We’re looking at you Cuban flan.
Flan is a favorite of both Ani and Cristina, which is why they were so proud when they got it just right.
For an easy weeknight (or any night) dinner, they swear by their Fricase de Pollo, a comforting chicken dish that fills you up in all the important ways.
“A lot of cookbooks and food blogs just assume you’re at a certain level of expertise in the kitchen. They skip the important steps that you need to explain to people who are at level zero, who are just getting started,” says Cristina. At Abuela’s Counter, it’s okay if you don’t know which pot to use, what “soft peaks” mean, or what it takes to prep a turkey.
Ani and Cristina are confident that their audience isn’t just looking for someone else to do the cooking for them – they want to learn how to do it themselves, and they’re eager to figure it out, they just need some guidance.
And while the cooking is obviously at the heart of their brand, it’s about more than just recipes and food; Abuela’s Counter is about community as well.
Building an Online Community of Fellow Foodies
Growing up food helped them connect with their Abuelas and today it helps them feel those connections even after their relatives are gone. They knew, down in their stomachs and souls, that they were not alone in these sentiments. So, they are building a community based on that concept of food and togetherness and the many ways that food (both preparing and eating) bonds us all. It’s not just about mastering a recipe or learning how to prepare a dish; it’s about bringing pieces of home back into your life.
The Special Significance of Abuela’s Counter
Creating an engaged, interactive, supportive online community of Latinas and fellow foodies wasn’t always the intention, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise once Abuela’s Counter launched.
“I think we always knew the community was there, especially during COVID when we would post recipes and photos and people would message us saying it reminds them of their Tía or of growing up,” said Ani. “We realized that people feel like we feel about food.” That part wasn’t so surprising. The part that was the happy accident and was more of a shock was that people were not only engaging but also sharing. They were messaging Abuela’s Counter, reposting their experiences, and sharing the recipes they love.
Their website and Instagram page really are a safe space filled with food and family wisdom. Infused into their recipes and stories are bits of advice and cooking tips their Abuela’s shared throughout their lives – the kinds of advice only a grandmother could know.
Ani’s Abuela always stressed the need to give food time. “You can’t throw a million ingredients together in one put at the same time. The right way to make a sofrito is to push the onions aside and let the garlic cook; give food, and life, the time it deserves. Don’t rush things just to get them over with.”
Cristina’s Abuela was all about family and how food brought them together. “She managed to get 9 siblings around the table, plus all of their kids and spouses, every Sunday at noon. She cooked for everyone, with minimal help. For her it was about how food can bring people together and the way that kind of love can set a foundation that transcends any other differences or struggles.” These are the kinds of life lessons Ani and Cristina hope to share in every post and every recipe.
Bringing Cuban Cooking to Life at Home
Abuela’s Counter posts often on their Instagram page and share recipes on their website. They are also hosting an online cooking class, with more interactive cooking opportunities to come. This past Thanksgiving they sold a custom mojo marinade and a dry rub spice blend locally in Miami to fans and foodies. The hope is to expand all of those offerings, with more content, more classes, more spices, and more foodie love.
Another goal for the future includes short YouTube tutorials, as well as a potential cookbook, which is actually where the concept for Abuela’s Counter began. What was going to be a printed recipe collection turned into an online community and it might ultimately exist also as a printed book.
“We want to see what people like. We are listening and we want to know what they want more of,” said Ani.