Thursday, June 7, 2012

El Proyecto: Year 1

Another school year is in the books.

This was the first year for my big extra credit project, and I think for the first year, it was successful.  Some tweaking and adjustments will need to be made, but I feel as if the overall goal was achieved: To have my students try foods that are native to Hispanic/Latino culture.

I did have to make a few compromises - not too many, but a few.  I'm not happy about that, and that is definitely one of the adjustments that will be made for next year - no compromises.

Here are the stats on which restaurants were visited:

La Hacienda (Century III Mall): 13 visits*

Mad Mex (multiple locations): 7

Antojitos (McKeesport): 1

Don Pablo's (Monroeville): 1

El Campesino (multiple locations): 1

And the one that I'm not proud of - Chipotle: 1

* - La Hacienda closed due to "kitchen problems" at the end of April. 

What were the determining factors for which restaurant each student visited?  The number 1 factor was location - the closer the restaurant was to school, the more frequently it was visited.  Gran Agave is less than 10 minutes from our school, and it is located in the most popular shopping complex in our area, so it was far more convenient to go there.  La Hacienda was located in Century III Mall, which sits at the other end of the borough.

Students were devastated when La Hacienda closed.  I wasn't.  I never ate there myself, which goes to show how much of a priority it was for me to get there.

Smoke BBQ Taqueria is also in Homestead, a stone's-throw away from the school, but 2 factors kept it from creeping into the top 3: Location (not located IN The Waterfront, but on 8th Ave., with metered parking and not far from a high-crime area) and Price (their prices are far higher than Gran Agave's for what you get - although I argue that the QUALITY of the food is far, FAR better). 

Having multiple locations also helped determine where a student went to eat.  I had students visit the Emiliano's in the South Side, as well as the one in the North Hills - it just depended on which relatives they visited, or which direction they were headed in at the time.  Some students visited the Mad Mex in Shadyside, while others ate at the Oakland location.

That "multiple location" thing also helps with the popularity of the chain itself - which is why Mad Mex seems to always win "Best Mexican Restaurant" in Pittsburgh.  I have my own opinions.

Of course, my project was met with some criticism - despite it being "extra credit".  One of the most difficult aspects of teaching a foreign language in Pittsburgh is having the students connect with the culture in their own community - Latinos exist in Pittsburgh, but because so many other ethnic groups are dominant in the area, their culture here is often overlooked.  I wanted my students to discover the culture that exists - some did, some did not...some did not try.

Given the $1664.69 that was spent by my students and their families at these restaurants this year, I'm happy with those who gave it a shot - those who tried something new or different.

2011-12 School Year Receipt Collection
I would love to make this project a requirement, especially since "Communities" is a national foreign language standard, but I cannot because A.) it requires money, and B.) it requires travel.  

On the money end, my argument is that everyone has to eat - why not spend your money by challenging your normal eating habits?  The worst thing that you may discover is that you do not like a certain food - but the foods of the entire culture do not have to be judged on one meal alone.  Next time, try something different.  

On the travel end, I don't have much of an argument.  Most of my students do not have their driver's licenses yet, and even if they do, their parents sometimes - sometimes - regulate when and where they drive.  Challenging adults to change their habits is a challenge in itself; while I am a firm believer that you CAN "teach an old dog new tricks", not everyone is so liberal.

The students themselves made it clear that their eating habits were challenged as a result of this project - an accomplishment that makes me very proud of what this project has done for them:

 "I would definitely go back to Emiliano's.  I never expected to really enjoy this food because I really only eat tacos once in awhile, no other type of Mexican or Spanish food.  This experience made me want to experiment with new foods." - Kevin G.

"Gran Agave has to be one of my favorite restaurants.  I love Mexican is starting to get really busy down there because of their very delicious foods." - Zach F.

"...there were people of Latin descent working there [at Gran Agave].  They were all speaking Spanish to each other, and I actually understood a little bit of what they were saying." - Tyler S.

"...Antojitos had the most appetizing foods I ever had in Pittsburgh.  This trip made me consider going back again real soon." - Cato R. (moved to Pittsburgh from Michigan last year)

"I would go back for the foods [at Smoke BBQ Taqueria] as well as I like the restaurant style.  It is very comfortable, feels like you're in your house - it's just very warm and inviting." - Breela D.

"My [fajitas] arrived to my table very quickly and was hot and had a lot of different spices and was something I had never tried before...I would definitely come back [to Patron] because I enjoyed the food and the service was wondeful." - Sade S.

"...everything was delicious...I would go back [to Smoke BBQ Taqueria] again to try their other things like the chili and their Frito dipper things.  I now know why [Miss Cibulka goes] there all the time and hope to go back next weekend." - Nate R.

A few pictures students took at the restaurants (this is not all of them, and this part was optional)
 Hasta el 29 de agosto, mis estudiantes.  Buen provecho.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for this project, please comment below or email me at

Gran Agave on Urbanspoon Emiliano's Mexican Restaurant & Bar (South Side) on Urbanspoon SMOKE barbeque taqueria on Urbanspoon Patron Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon Antojitos Authentic Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. La Hacienda was great! Heck, those "kitchen problems" are probably what made that place so good.

    Your argument that everyone has to eat does not take into account that going out for a dinner is a very rare, if ever treat for a lot of families.