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When craving a home-cooked meal, the easiest solution might just be to go home. But when the pandemic hit, for many, that was no longer possible. Some people turned to FaceTime to learn their parent's signature recipes, while others turned to TikTok.
"Foodtok," as the culinary side of the platform is known, is a mouthwatering rabbit hole. It grants anyone — regardless of skill level — the ability to learn from real home cooks instead of celebrity chefs on TV.
For Latina food creators Ana Regalado, Alejandra Tapia and Omi Hopper, posting on TikTok was originally just a way to bond with their family and connect with their culture while in quarantine. But they all found out, over 6 million combined followers later, that so many others were craving the same thing. Now these creators are representing their cultures on a broad scale and passing down their Mexican and Puerto Rican recipes to the next generation of home cooks.
Ana Regalado aka @saltycocina
Ana Regalado, the creator behind @saltycocina, uses her online platform to share easier and quicker ways to prepare traditional Mexican dishes. Her account, which boasts 2.2 million followers, features a wide range of recipes including salsas, masa- and tortilla-based dishes, desserts and traditional, seasonal recipes.
Regalado, who lives in Arizona, once shared an online auction business with her husband before the pandemic, but began filming her recipe videos as COVID-19 spread and wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
“I just thought, 'I need to do something else. I don’t want to be away from the house. I don’t want to be out there. I don’t want to get sick or catch something,' so I just started recording,” she told TODAY Food. She said another motivating factor was that she wants her children, grandchildren and viewers to be able to create her recipes on their own — even when she’s no longer around.
Regalado started cooking around the age of eight when she immigrated to the U.S. with her family. She recalled how her mother would prepare a five-pound bag of masa for tortillas that Regalado would roll out and cook for her family of eight.
“I was always the nosy one in the kitchen seeing what she was making for dinner or what she would put in it,” said Regalado. Now, one of her most viral videos posted earlier this year features her buttery tortillas and has accumulated over 17 million views and nearly 14,000 comments praising its simplicity, prompting viewers to try the recipe on their own.
In her videos, Regalado doesn’t do a lot of chit-chat. She recognizes that people are busy and don’t want too much extra fluff, so most of her content consists of 2- to 3-minute videos that skip unnecessary steps. She believes Mexican cuisine uses a lot of the same ingredients but in different variations — which is why she breaks down the kitchen must-haves, including seasonings, dried peppers and sauces.
"I just assumed it was just (going) to stay in the family," she said, after she recently ran into a follower while on a trip to California who expressed how happy she was to have come across Regalado’s account because her mom never showed her how to make traditional dishes. "Never in my life did I think it would get this big and this wide with so many viewers, this many followers, but I’m glad I can help them bring dishes to their family and their table and that makes me happy."
Alejandra Tapia aka @nanajoe19
Alejandra Tapia, known as @nanajoe19 on TikTok, is from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but currently resides in California. She went viral on TikTok for packing lunches for her cousin and husband, featuring anything from burgers and loaded burritos to hefty tortas and salsa-drenched camarones a la diabla (shrimp in a red chile sauce). She recently hit 3.5 million followers, all of whom are met with enthusiastic step-by-step recipe instructions.
Tapia originally posted her cooking videos to Snapchat for her family and friends. It wasn’t until her children introduced her to TikTok that she decided to download the app and discovered all the food content people were sharing. When she told her husband she wanted to start filming her recipes, they started moving the lamps from their living room into the kitchen and would have her husband or teenager hold the phone over her shoulders to get the perfect shot.
“My lunches started getting attention from other people.” Tapia told TODAY. “One time (in the beginning), I got 700 views on one of my videos and I was like, '700 views? Oh my god, 700 people are looking at my videos!'" Now she has millions of people watching her pack lunch.
A key feature of the lunches she packs are her many variations of agua fresca, a light fruit drink popular in Mexico. Her dad, who worked for a grocery store, would deliver fruit to customers and bring the leftovers back home, where the family would go through and clean the fruits, piece by piece, and blend them together to create the refreshing beverage.
As the oldest of four girls, Tapia, too, began cooking at an early age. She remembers how excited her grandmother would get taking her into the kitchen to make food while her parents were at work.
"Instead of it being a chore, it was like I was learning," Tapia said. Growing up, her family was low-income, so her grandma was always thinking of new ways to make dishes so they wouldn’t be eating the same thing over and over. Which is why Tapia describes her cuisine as "remixed" Mexican-inspired dishes, with creations that include birria egg rolls, menudo ramen, chocolate tres leches cake, pumpkin spice horchata and churro cheesecake.
"I sometimes feel like I’m obsessed with cooking and I’m dreaming stuff. I wake up and know what I’m going to do today," said Tapia. She joked that she isn’t allowed to go to the grocery store more than three times a week. But as proud as she is to honor her roots and represent the Latino community on TikTok, she is still wary of the judgment from those in the older generation who can be very protective over traditional Mexican cooking.
"I want to stick to my tradition, but twist it," she explained. "I want to represent my community for the younger generation so they know their roots and traditions and know you can do that in different ways."
Her advice to aspiring cooks and food content creators is to not be afraid to try new things: "Go in the kitchen with an open mind," she said. "Go in there be crazy, be weird, create something new. You never know the new recipe you come up with can be the new thing, the new trend."
Omi Hopper aka @cookingconomi
Omi Hopper, known as @cookingconomi on TikTok, is very grateful for her platform of over 312,500 followers. Currently based in Rhode Island, she is a professional makeup artist by trade, but her studio was shut down at the start of the pandemic. Left without a job, she decided to record what she already does every day: cook the Puerto Rican meals she grew up eating.
She moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico as a little girl, but she remembers the summers she spent at her grandparents’ farm in Puerto Rico.
“I decided to do it the same way that my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother taught me,” Hopper told TODAY. “I started cooking at a very very early age with my grandmother and my aunts. They were a pack of women; the energy was through the roof. So, I grew up seeing them happy all the time in the kitchen, cooking, dancing, telling jokes, excited to try each other’s food.
"I was only allowed to use the pilon (a wooden mortar and pestle) to mash the garlic. I couldn’t do anything else, and I would do that all the time; it was my favorite thing."
Cooking up classic Puerto Rican fare like succulent chuletas fritas (pork chops), arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) and croquetas de mangú (plantain croquettes), Hopper wants to bring people back in time to those cherished moments with family. She remembers when a follower reached out to let her know that her content helped him recreate a special dish for his sons that helped them reconnect with their mother who had recently passed away from cancer.
"He said that his boys were on the table crying (because) they tasted their mom’s food. I was done," she said, tearing up. "I was like, 'I can’t stop making these videos.'"
Since her account has grown into something substantial, she said she's conscious of the responsibility she has to not only remain authentic, but to display the beauty of her people and their island. That’s why she hopes her followers will be able to pass down her teachings to their families.
For Hopper specifically, that meant honoring her grandmother by creating her own sofrito brand, Mi Sofrito Fresqusito, which is a blend of vegetables, herbs, spices and other flavors to create a base for various Latin recipes.
"I always remember, my grandmother would say, 'Vamos hacer este sofrito, bien fresquito,' 'We’re going to make very fresh sofrito," which is how the product got its name. "(It) always had a very unique consistency, the way she would cut (the vegetables). I fight for the texture to be exactly like she used to make hers."
"I hope that I am able to bring a smile and show the warmth of us as Latinos and us as Puerto Ricans,” Hopper added. "We are sprinkled like confetti all over the world. We represent our flag, our culture and our accent. So, I want to make sure that when we do that, that we are loud and proud about it."