5 minute read

A Three Course Meal in East Boston

Words by Cassandra Perez
Photos by Kate Klein

A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Boston Common, where people walked with their heads down and headphones in, Maverick Square was alive with culture.

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the Maverick T Station, I thought for a second that I had stepped into another world. Street vendors hailed passersby down in rapid Spanish as Marc Anthony blared from open car windows and storefronts, a clear bienvenidos to locals and tourists alike. The last thing I’d expected on a cold Saturday morning in January was to stumble upon a scene that so vividly reminded me of my home in Florida, a place whose diversity I’d begun to miss since moving for college.

The community of the affectionately termed “Eastie” is very culturally intact. Since its annexation by the City of Boston in 1836, East Boston has served as a safe haven for immigrants from Central and Latin America, who cultivated the neighborhood into the cultural hub it is today. Visiting the waterfront revealed a problem for East Boston eateries: gentrification. All along the waterfront were towering luxury apartments and condos that stood out in stark contrast to the colorful and cozy businesses found in the square, forcing many working-class immigrants to seek accommodations elsewhere.

East Boston is a far trip, especially from Boston College’s cozy Chestnut Hill community. A trip to Maverick Square requires taking the D Line all the way to Government Center and transfering to the Blue Line, a commute that’s nearly an hour long on a good day. I visited East Boston that cold Saturday morning with the intention of getting a three-course meal, an experience that would make braving the long T ride and the unfriendly weather worth it.

My first stop on my trip to East Boston was La Sultana, a small Colombian panadería steps away from the Maverick T Station. I was enticed by the smell of freshly-baked bread wafting through its slightly ajar door, promising pedestrians respite from the cold and a good meal. The panadería was small enough that it felt inviting, but boasted an eye-catching glass display that was a testament to its delicious variety. Warm bread, steaming empanadas, and enticing flanes and cheesecakes brought the glass display to life, staying true to La Sultana’s Colombian roots while catering to the diverse East Boston community. The panadería was relatively empty, save a couple sipping coffee at one of the high tops and speaking in hushed tones. The employees were scrambling in anticipation for the morning rush, but when they caught sight of me, offered a smile and a genuine “buenos días.” The display stretched before me, warm with the first batches of buñelos and pan aliñado. I guestered to the pan aliñado—a buttery Colombian bread that’s a staple at any panadería—in broken Spanish and sat at the second high top, watching the neighborhood come to life. The first, crunchy bite of the pan aliñado gave way to a soft, sweet interior. I broke buttery chunks off, dipping it into a fragrant dark Colombian coffee that was so rich and flavorful, it put the Chocolate Bar to shame.

I walked out of La Sultana feeling more awake than when I had entered. After walking the length of Meridian Street., admiring the vibrant murals and houses that marked its back streets, I happened upon and entered Rincón Limeño, a Peruvian restaurant highly revered for its seafood. Having just staved off the lunch time rush, a waiter greeting me kindly and immediately brought me to my seat. With a menu as wide and varied as its country of origin, I enlisted my waiter to recommend the best of what the restaurant had to offer. I ended up ordering Choros a la Chalaca: mussels piled high with diced peppers and onions with a squeeze of lime to taste. I didn’t eat a lot of seafood growing up, but the mussels—the first I’d ever had— were fresher than anything I’d ever eaten, with the vegetables and lime adding a tang that was equal parts familiar and novel. The main course was the Plato Montenegro, a plate piled high with juicy grilled steak, rice and beans, fried pork, plantains, an egg, and a side salad. The meal was something similar to what I eat at home, but with a Peruvian twist that made each bite more exciting than the last. The steak, although thin, packed a flavorful punch, and when eaten in combination with the rice and beans, warmed and invigorated the taste buds. The Peruvian fried pork was unlike anything I’d ever seen or eaten before, every bite equal parts salty and savory. The sweet plantains and fried egg tied the dish together, and I cleaned my plate entirely. I’d left Rincón Limeño with a full stomach and heart.

Although there was a T station near Rincón Limeño, I decided to take the scenic route, circling back through the neighborhood to get one last look at Eastie. Condensed, colorful living units lined the street I walked. Cars drove with the windows down despite the weather, slowing down to greet people they knew. Kids, bundled in coats chased each other down the sidewalk, yelling gleefully in a language I didn’t understand. And I noticed a crowd of people leaving from one building in particular, so small I’d never had seen it otherwise: Lolly’s Bakery.

agreeable prices of the pastries. I was the only person in the store when I’d walked in, and the employee at the counter quickly registered how overwhelmed I was by the spread in front of me. Quickly coming to my aid, she described each of the foreign pastries before me. With the warm customer service that is a staple of Spanish culture, she pointed me in the direction of the alfajores, a traditional South American delicacy that consists of two soft bread cookies filled with dulce de leche. Despite its simple ingredients, the dessert’s impact was palpable. The sugary cookie—the perfect mix of soft and crumbly—broke away easily, giving way to a smooth caramel interior that immediately made me reach for more. I left Lolly’s Bakery with a bag full of sweets to share with my friends back on campus, and the intention to return someday for more.

By the time I’d returned back to Maverick Square, the sun was setting. Street vendors started closing up shops, eager to get back home to their families. Waiters cleared and set tables through glass windows, preparing for dinner. The sound of Spanish music followed me down the steps back into the dark T station, and all along the commute back to campus. ■