Sofrito y Salsa Shares Cuban Flavor and Culture Through Pop-Ups

Vegan tamales by Sofrito y Salsa. Photo by the author.

Sofrito y Salsa, a Cuban food pop-up with a summer residency at Crown Heights’ bar King Tai, just served their last Cubano on August 25. Chef-owner Patricia Suarez, who got her start hosting at-home pop-up dinners this year, is taking a three-month leave to Tuscany, Italy, where she will be living on a farm picking olives as an alternative to culinary school. 

Scribbled on the sandwich board, the menu read: Cubanos, croqueta sandwiches and vegan tamales. Classic Cuban jazz and salsa hits played loud enough to provide an island-feel moving enough that I thought I heard the phantom sound of palm trees waving in the wind. As Suarez was pressing the Cubanos flat to a toast, a waft of butter scent engulfed us as we spoke, and she told me that her mom taught her everything she knows about Cuban food, the recipes passed down like an heirloom. 

All but one: vegan tamales. That one was just in her Cubana nature to prepare. 

Suarez and her niece. Photo by the author.

“I know there are a lot of people who are vegan, and Cuban food isn’t vegan, but I still want them to enjoy it,” she explained. At her dinners, she usually omits animal products from rice and beans, and tailors her menu to the guest list, making her taste of home more widely accessible.

The corn and bell pepper tamal is tender, zinged to perfection with the juice of a lime wedge, tickling the tongue with a light sprinkling of salt. Every bite feeling like a homecoming. It’s no wonder they typically sell out. 

Her niece, Rebecca Bulnes, chimed in recounting her year as a pescatarian. She was tired of eating chicken and her grandma, who disliked fish, not only took the time to figure it out, but made it delicious. 

“It’s the giving Cuban way,” Bulnes said, affectionately, suggesting that the tamal was an extension of this ethos and Suarez’s motive behind cooking.

“I cook to share, to bring people together through food,” Suarez said. 

Upon her return, Suarez hopes to continue bringing people together with more at-home dinners, where she hopes to start featuring live Cuban music, and cooking classes that teach classics like croquetas and mojitos. Follow her Tuscan adventures and find out when the next pop-up will take place on Instagram.