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What do Alhambrans eat on the Fourth of July?

Alhambra Source's high school journalists shared in July 2011 what they liked to cook and eat on Independence Day. Read their stories below, check out their family recipes, and share your own with us!

Burgers and hot dogs are just dandy, but the residents of Alhambra also celebrate the grand birthday of our country with their own flavor: the delicate flake of a golden-brown fried Tilapia, the refreshing bite of a freshly cut cactus paddle salad, and, of course, the most traditional of all, the mouthful of a homemade chunky salsa with sushi vinegar! Read some of their stories below.

Esther Acosta-Perez prepares her Nopal salad. My mother’s first memory of Independence Day in the United States was eating carne asada at her brother’s house in San Jose. She told me she loves the holiday, not because of its fireworks or barbecues, but because of the freedom it represents in her life. She left her small rural village in the Northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa at the age of 12, alone, in hopes of furthering her education in the U.S. Now 50 years old, she has been an Alhambra resident for about 26 years. She holds a master's degree in education and is a school nurse for elementary schools in Alhambra.

-Anthony Perez

Mojarra, or fried tilapia The unmistakable smell of hot dogs, melting cheese, and sulfur fill the air every time the Fourth of July rolls around. Filled with American flags and loud fireworks, the day takes a special twist when it comes to my family’s culinary traditions. Straying from the usual path of buns and burgers, the mojarra, or fried tilapia fish, is one of several celebratory foods that we fry up at my aunt’s house. This food is an integral part of my mother’s Independence Day memories, but more importantly it serves as a familial tie that represents happiness and a gratefulness to be in America with family and friends. While I no longer indulge in this non-vegetarian meal, my mother assures me that as a child, I would enjoy the fried fish, sparklers in hand.

-Victoria Gavia

My mom was a late adaptor to Independence Day. She did not start celebrating the holiday until several years after she arrived in the U.S. Even then, the celebrations were relatively mild. Back then, my family lived in a tenement in Chinatown. Fireworks and barbecues were not allowed, so instead, they celebrated by eating pizza and chips with family instead of cooking over a grill. It was not until my sisters and I were born that my mom started taking us out to see the fireworks around our neighborhood. Overall, my mother prefers fireworks over firecrackers. She loves the lights and pyrotechnics that emanate from the boxes. Firecrackers, to her, are just made for loud noises. We made it a new tradition to go to Almansor Park on the Fourth of July to see the fireworks show there. My sisters and my parents would bring some chips, salsa, soda, and a large blanket. We would eat and talk and look up when the show starts. My aunt was at a party when she tried the salsa. She thought it tasted really unique and asked what was in it. It turned out the special ingredient in the dish was the sushi vinegar. This version was slightly sweeter than a regular salsa. It goes well on salad, sandwiches — and even spaghetti.

-Alan Tam

Esther Acosta-Perez’s Nopal Salad 

  • 5-10 large cactus leaves, de-thorned and chopped
  • Water
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large white onion, minced
  • Small bunch of cilantro, rinsed and minced
  • Tomatoes
  • Salt to taste 

Peel the cactus so that all spines are taken off the leaves of the plant.

Cut in long strips and add to a pot with enough water to cover the cactus.

Halve the onion and add into pot, along with several cloves of garlic and roughly chopped cilantro.

Let water boil until the cactus is tender. Drain water and let cool.

Add chopped tomatoes, diced white onion and cilantro.

Salt to taste.

To make cactus salad tacos, heat a corn tortilla, add your freshly made cactus salad, carne asada, and salsa.


Mojarras Fritas

  • 2 medium whole Tilapia fish
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
  • 1 large or 2 small tomatoes, minced
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 1 Serrano chili pepper or jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cut slits on the side of the fish, open and clean. Remove the scales by scraping in opposite direction with a knife. Remove all the internal organs by hand.

Mix garlic, lime juice, salt, and pepper together, rub all over the fish, and fill the slits with it.

Heat generous amount of olive oil on medium high in a pan and add fish. Pan-fry fish for about three minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Sauté onions and chili pepper until translucent and fragrant. Add diced tomato and cilantro, season with a little salt. Add fish, cover, and steam for 5-10 minutes, until tomatoes release juice.

Aunt’s Salsa Recipe

  • 1/2 cup of sushi vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 small jalapenos
  • 10 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar, optional
  • 2 teaspoons of cilantro, optional
  • 2 teaspoons of lime juice

Mix the vinegar, onions, salt, and sugar in a ceramic bowl.

De-seed and finely chop the jalapenos, mix into the bowl.

Place mixture into refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Chop tomatoes into roughly the same size as the onions.

Remove jalapenos from refrigerator and combine with tomatoes.

Add finely chopped cilantro and lime juice to taste. Mix well.

Let sit for 10 minutes and serve.

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