There's something about food that brings people and cultures together.
From sweet rituals of making coffee to running a family bakery to reclaiming one's heritage through meals, most people have a story behind their favorite dishes. Stars like Mario Lopez, La La Anthony and Diego Boneta, acclaimed writer Isabel Allende, as well as many entrepreneurs and philanthropists, shared their favorite Latin American dish and recipe with TODAY Food. They all share how their meals center around family or nostalgia, reminding them of home.
"For the nostalgic factor, my favorite Latin American dish is menudo, the red or the white cloudy kind. My grandfather used to always make it. We’d always go and eat it on the weekends and would bring the family together. It was known as the hangover food. It’s generational and it means a lot," Lopez said about his favorite Latin American dish, before sharing his ceviche recipe.
The Chilean writer shares her rice pudding childhood recipe with TODAY readers, reflecting on the memories that it brings back.
"It was the usual dessert on Sundays in my grandparent’s house, where I grew up," she writes. "It’s my favorite because it brings back sweet memories from those family reunions and sad memories of the months I spent in Spain when my daughter Paula was gravely ill."
The Olympic gold medalist explains how her mom's mofongo honors her family and culture.
"Anytime is a great time to celebrate our loved ones and our cultures, traditions and values that are passed down through generations, including Hispanic Heritage Month. I’m always excited to honor two things that are very special to me that go hand-in-hand — my Puerto Rican heritage and my family," the athlete told TODAY. "Family gatherings are filled with great food — and plenty of it. One of my favorite dishes is the mofongo that my mom prepares. I love plantains and this dish added to any meal makes it special."
"Puerto Rican food is a tradition I hope to pass down to many generations as a way to continue to honor my family and ancestry," she added.
La La Anthony
The TV personality and "The Chi" actor reached out to her mom, Carmen Surillo, to share the recipe of her favorite dish, arroz con salchichas and frijoles negros.
"My son Kiyan and I love it, especially my mom’s recipe," Anthony told TODAY, with Surillo adding that she makes it for her daughter and grandchild when they visit her.
Benjamin Levy Aguilar
The "Chicago P.D." star told TODAY that his favorite Latin American dish is a traditional Guatemalan breakfast.
"To this day, my usual breakfast consists of over medium eggs, Guatemalan tortillas, black beans and plantains. It’s a bit different than how it sounds though since the black beans are refried and have a 'mashed potato' consistency and they are also served with this delicious type of cheese that we call 'queso panela' on the side," he shared. "I like to have 'chiltepe' which are small berry-like chilis (very healthy) that we eat in Guatemala alongside our breakfast. I usually like to add it to my tortillas or the black beans. All together, it is a very balanced meal with all types of amino acids. And of course, I cannot skip out on delicious Guatemalan coffee."
He added that the meal allows him "to start my day energized and on a healthy note, and it also has a sentimental meaning, reminding me of home, my mom and my nana, whom I grew up with and are a big part of my story. Best breakfast ever!"
The NBC News anchor and senior national correspondent shared a recipe that is close to his family's heart: his mother's frijoles colorados.
"I always loved it because it starts with the classic sofrito but then ends up with so many other ingredients." Llamas said. "It’s pretty much the entire dinner menu in one dish. Instant food coma."
The "Father of the Bride" actor calls this "Mexican staple" his favorite Latin American dish, and also shares the special recipe made by his mother.
“I feel like chiles en nogada are such a Mexican staple around Mexico’s Independence Day. It's a dish that’s only really eaten around Hispanic Heritage Month, so it’s a staple that reminds me of my Mexican heritage," the actor said. “My mom's cochinita pibil is out of this world. It is — by far — my favorite recipe that she makes. The dish is traditionally from Yucatan and it just reminds me of home.”
The actor and singer loves her mom's picadillo and thinks it's "hands down" the best. Milian prefers a home-cooked version and has never found the dish anywhere outside of her family's home. She shared the "freehand" recipe with TODAY.
Yolanda Selene Walther-Meade
The Calibaja Region-builder and Crossborder philanthropist is all about making food with love and sharing it with family and friends. Among her favorite Latin American meals is Mexican mole, which she calls "a labor of love."
"The name is originally derived from the indigenous Aztec Nahuatl term, 'chilmolli,' meaning chile sauce and dates back to the 17th century in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Puebla. A vital part of Mexico’s culinary legacy, it forms a part of the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage," the This Is About Humanity co-founder said, adding that preparing mole "can take hours and include up to 40 ingredients including chiles, cocoa and corn."
"The ceremony and time required to prepare mole lends itself to creating cherished memories such as our recent family Christmas in Mexico City where, along with my two adult children Carlos, 25, and Andie, 23, we prepared a baroque 16-ingredient mole as part of a fantastic cooking class with Casa Jacaranda," she added. "As a child of immigrants it is particularly meaningful to me that we have incorporated mole and chicken as a weekly staple at our food relief kitchen, where my organization This Is About Humanity along with ICF / Tijuana Sin Hambre serves up to 2,000 meals daily to children, unaccompanied minors and migrant families at shelters at the U.S.-Mexico border — because everyone deserves food made with love."
Additionally, Walther-Meade shared a recipe for chilorio, a pork dish from Sinaola that brings "fond memories" of holidays or family vacations.
Peloton's VP of Fitness Programming is all about enjoying a healthier version of fried plantains.
"I love savory chip-like treats and in the air fryer it’s a little bit — even if slightly — healthier for my family now, as well as an homage to my abuela," Arzón told TODAY as she shared her personal recipe.
Born and raised in Santiago, Chile, the "Hacks" actor recalled enjoying "all the flavors the coast and mountains had to offer" thanks to the city's "privileged geographic placement."
"We’re a country rich in wine and agricultural production but also famous for its seafood. I grew up eating a lot of fresh fish and shellfish, and it’s something I miss a lot living in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great seafood here, it’s just … how do I put it — not the same?" she told TODAY. "My absolute favorite dish is called caldillo de congrio, which is a fish stew made with conger. I know it doesn’t sound as appetizing, but trust me, I promise it’s incredibly delicious, complex in flavor and a really famous hangover cure!"
"There’s a warmth from the heat of the broth, the mix of vegetables and the delicious conger that all melt together in a very well coordinated choreography of flavors in your mouth. It’s comforting, exciting and happy. I make it in the summer and winter, depending on the fish availability, I try to pick what's fresh and not too flaky," she adds. "Fun facts, Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about this dish. There's a scene in a not-very-well-known show called 'Breaking Bad' in which Gus and Walter are having a lunch meeting and alas, caldillo de congrio is being eaten and it adds some stewy layers to the scene, if I do say so myself."
Elsa Marie Collins
The co-founder of Poderistas and This Is About Humanity knows that a meal can "make you smile" and bring on the childhood nostalgia. Collins enjoys preparing enfrijoladas because it combines all of her favorite things about Mexican cuisine.
"It smells and tastes like home to me," she shared.
The “Only Murders in the Building” actor loves Latin American food and finds it hard to pick just one dish, but ultimately, he does have a favorite. While he enjoys food from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, he’s all about this Venezuelan dish.
“I think it would be criminal not to mention my native country’s most famous food, dish, being the arepa,” Dominguez said. “I grew up eating them and being from Miami, you have Venezuelan spots all over the city, so you get to have them any which way you want!”
“My mother makes the best reina pepiada arepa, which consists of chicken-avocado salad; however, people add their own special ingredients or sazón to it,” the “Inspection” star said, jokingly adding, “But if I told you (the recipe) I’d have to … well, you know the rest.”
During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.