By Mrs. Katie Ritter Torres, Middle and Upper School Spanish Teacher
Tostones, plátanos maduros, mofongo, sancocho, bistec, canoa, pernil, flan, tres leches, tembleque… Do these dishes sound familiar? Perhaps not. I was unfamiliar with several of them until I set foot in Mi Caldero, a Puerto Rican restaurant near the Byrnes Center in downtown York. Since the students in our Spanish 2 class recently learned restaurant phrases, Mi Caldero was the perfect fit. Filled with bilingual chatter and salsa music, it is clearly a favorite of Puerto Ricans, and I knew I had found an authentic experience for the students. Not to mention, my new contact at the restaurant shared my philosophy of requiring students to order in Spanish – ¡Perfecto!
Choosing a Puerto Rican restaurant was a way to broaden students’ horizon of Latin American food. My personal experience with foods from Latin America has been mostly with Mexican food. Going to Mi Caldero also allowed me to learn about new dishes, or in some cases, the Puerto Rican version of something I had tried in Mexico, like tres leches or bistec. It was exciting to share in the experience of trying new foods alongside the students.
We arrived at Mi Caldero hungry, excited, and a little bit nervous. The students approached the register to order, and some argued over who should go first. Others called me over to practice their order or to ask how to say a particular phrase. I could sense their nervousness and was reminded of the first several times I ordered food in Spanish. When they arrived at the counter, they were greeted in Spanish and asked for their order. Afterward, some walked away lamenting “I totally said that wrong.” However, they had done it! The food arrived, and students enjoyed the fruits of their successful ordering. It didn’t matter if their grammar was not perfect, which is a lesson about oral expression that I try to emphasize.
Creating a connection in the York community was an added benefit of the trip. I hope that we continue the relationship with the restaurant and that our students return later with friends and family to share in the experience. The staff at Mi Caldero complemented our students on their behavior and their Spanish. “Son bien educados,” one employee said. As their teacher, I am grateful for the impression they left.
In reflecting on the experience afterward, students said that the trip made them realize that Spanish is more than a language we use in the classroom. It has the ability to help us connect with our community. This is why experiential learning is so valuable and truly enhances a York Country Day School education. I hope to continue this tradition with my students next year, and that this year’s group will look back on the trip with fond memories. By the way, if you decide to go to Mi Caldero, we recommend the bistec.