What is it to be an intercultural couple? The interview about immigration, travel, cuisine, and love

Аna Cristina Canana is from El Salvador, has been to 27 countries and lives between Portugal and the US
9 min
Portugal
December 28, 2023
24000

Аna Cristina Canana is from El Salvador. She loves to cook and considers cuisine an essential part of the culture and a way to communicate. АnaCristina has been to 27 countries and lives between Portugal and the US. His husband, Kevin, is from Washington state, US. They run a cooking blog with recipes from all over the world. We discussed with АnaCristina about her immigration experience, cuisine, and being an intercultural couple.

What country did you get my message from? :) You travel a lot. You're on a trip right now, too, right?

I was in Paris when I received your messages, I was celebrating my birthday! I almost deleted you because I thought it was another scam but the way you were writing the messages was more credible. I am now on my way to Ireland to celebrate Kevin's birthday! Lots of bdays lately.

Is this a spontaneous trip, or do you and your husband plan everything? Has moving to Europe given you mobility and ease of travel?

We have started a tradition where for our birthdays we plan what we want to do. Do you know those people who like surprises on their birthdays? We are not one of them. On our previous birthdays, we always wanted to guess what the other person would like. I will plan something for Kevin and he will plan something for me… How wrong we were! ( from our point of view) So now we plan our own birthdays. This year for my birthday cake I wanted a variety of pastries to eat under the eiffel tower and visit the Louvre museum. Kevin wanted an Irish beef stew, the viking museum and a tea time. 

Did you often travel as a child, too? Or was it a dream?


I actually didn't travel much as a child. We used to go to Guatemala, which is very close to my hometown in El Salvador. My family worked a lot, so I would stay with my grandma. Weekends and holidays were to spend time with the family and finish up on shore to get ready for the week.

Seems like traveling has been on my plans since a very early age. I didn't remember this until my best friend from childhood, a few months ago, texted me saying how proud she felt when she saw I was accomplishing my childhood dream. And she made me remember this; when I was six or eight I would play with my friends pretending I was foreign and I couldn't speak spanish. I used to make up words and said I was speaking English and I also invented my own language. I thought that was a sweet touching personal moment that made me think about where I come and all what it took to be where I am now. I normally don't give credit to myself in many things but I feel proud at that moment. I think we all humans should work on that, it's a great boost of confidence, we all need it!

You are from El Salvador, Central America. How did it affect you as a person?

I am from El Salvador, Central America. A tropical small country with the most friendly people in the world and the best waves for surfing. Being Salvadoran gave me all the tools I needed to shape the woman I am today. I come from a matriarchal family full of empowered women, hard working women who face challenges in life with determination and joy. Even though the challenges are different, I can see how what I learn from my mom, my aunties, grandmothers and great aunts come up when I am making decisions. The lack of male presence in my family made me very independent and I am so thankful for that. Early in life I learned that there are times to cry as much as you need, time to wipe your tears, give yourself a hug and with a smile and joy keep figuring out life. 

We have a saying in El Salvador ”Los Salvadorenos somos 4x4” Transates: We Salvadoreans are 4x4” Just like the cars or the pick ups that the engine powers all the wheels. Meaning that we are prepared for all types of roads and all types of challenges. 

What inspired you to immigrate?

El Salvador is a developing country and sadly the lack of opportunity was real. I was very passionate about working with nonprofits that help my country's development but after I finished university I knew I couldn't stay there. Things that my female classmates were willing to do to get a job I wouldn't ever do, the violence in the streets was increasing, assaults, harassment, the gang and narco violence problems were at it’s peak. Being a woman in a country where you have to be always alert to lock your car, never put down your car windows because you can be assaulted, never get out your phone on a bus or wear your jewelry, you couldn't go out after 10:00 pm because it was too dangerous, to me every day felt like I was risking my life… Femicide also was real, according to a study from Yale University 67.4% of women report having experienced domestic violence at least one instance in their lifetimes and one woman is murdered by a man every 24 hours making the highest rate of femicide in the world, this report was from 2019. That was one part; the other part was the culture.

The culture of machismo in El Salvador is very pronounced. There are a lot of “rules” that a woman should follow but men could do whatever they wanted. The sad part is females were feeding the machismo as well. For example, men won’t do the dishes, they won't clean, they won't do laundry and women were there telling girls: “ you do all that, your brother can't ''.

It was ok for any man to have as many girlfriends he wanted, but If I was going out with a male friend and I would get in his car, I was a slut and not only that, the gossip would spread around all the town that I was “the women” of so and so. Basically as a woman you couldn't have male friends… and I had a lot of male friends! and I didn't care! I lost a lot of female friends because their mom will tell them I was a bad influence, I was a crazy girl, etc. Who can live like that? “Small town, big hell” is so true. So, as soon I graduate from university I looked everywhere I could to get out.

What do you do now?

I’m back to school, I am in the middle of a career change. 

You have changed your country of residence several times. Why? 

First time reason above, second time for love, third time for a better lifestyle.

Australia, USA and Portugal.

Which one did you like the most and why?

Definitely Portugal. The quality of its food, the beaches, the weather, the beauty of its architecture and the slow pace day by day.

Now I’m living between Portugal and the US. Аnd the why is the same as above. adding to that the government had great visas for couples like us that let us do the process faster compared with other countries.

What is the hardest thing about immigrating? The loss of friends? A new way of life? Which is more difficult?

The ups are very up and the downs are very low, that is the harder part for me. Sometimes it feels like there is not a middle point. Some days you are very down and it could be because you miss your family, your friends, your food, your native language, everything you were used to, you doubt about going back where you feel comfortable, you question yourself why I am doing this?!. And other days, you are extremely happy because you meet new people, you explore new places, find an amazing restaurant, you have a great chat with a random person, you finally figure out the metro or the train system, you are learning a new culture, new ways to cook, and you never ever want to leave.

What helped you overcome it?

Time.

You wrote on your Instagram: New chapters in life should always start with a good rest, a good coffee, and Netflix, right? 

Absolutely! We all need to recharge at some point. That's the day I quit my job. A very sad moment because I loved the people I worked with and my job had so many aspects to love about. But It was time for a change and I knew that what was coming would not be easy. I definitely need time to charge my energy and start again, and spend a week between crying and laughing and sleeping for so long after waking up for many years very early. But those changes are another topic that we could talk about later.

And another thought I liked: You could be in the most luxurious place in the world, but happiness comes from the heart, not from the place. Or does place matter?

Those thoughts came from a talk while we were enjoying our cheap plastic pool from walmart in covid times. Kevin and I have been in the most random places around the world. Some of them are very fancy, some of them very basic, some places have exide or expectations, others have been so disappointing. We learn to deal with very disappointing trips since the beginning of our marriage, and from there we realize that we are the ones bringing the joy and the happiness from to the place we are.

You've been to 27 countries. Could you make your ranking? Where should you travel and why? Name three or five places. 

  • Guatemala
    Guatemala is magic and has it all. From jungles to beaches, from beautiful rivers to volcanos, colonial towns and magnificent Mayan ruins. The vibrant colors in the streets, richness in their culture, the kindness of its people, the tasty street food. You could spend months and months in Guatemala and never stop exploring. Guatemala is a pure gem in the world.
  • Hawaii
    There is nothing in the world like Hawaii. It is so rich in every aspect, that's why so many places want to be “Like Hawaii” but the truth is; there is nothing like Hawaii. Has it all, starting with nature, the beautiful beaches, the colorful reefs, The humpback whales, the giant sea turtles, the jungly forests, the perfect weather all year around, the delicious food, the polynesian culture… it is so hard to explain what Hawaii makes you feel, that's why you need to go.
  • Bruges, Belgium.
    Bruges brought me back to the medieval times. As soon as you get into the town you travel in time and wonder how that era would have been, who walk on the same streets you are walking, you simply want to know more and more of the town. And let's not talk about how many Belgian waffles I had! You can't recreate them or buy them anywhere else; trust me we have tried! Kevin and I were there for Christmas time and the Christmas markets were so fun! There was a lot to do, to see and to eat. I couldn't  have enough of Belgium and I hope to go back.
  • Ireland
  • Portugal

What does it mean to be an intercultural couple?

An intercultural relationship or marriage is born where two people from different nationalities with different cultures or ethnic backgrounds get together and bring with them their practices and beliefs. 

We have created our way of communicating. What do you mean? 

Kevin and I are very different not only in our cultures, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, we are very different also in our personalities and ways to perceive the world. Adding to that, our native languages are different and we both are learning a third language together. We have created a sub culture in all the aspects of marriage life you can imagine, blending our culture, traditions, costumes and also our three languages. We have sentences only we understand, we do things half his way half my way that. We use gestures that are purely purely from my town, etc. not knowing deeply the meaning of why we do things the way we do, it won't make sense to another person. I assume all marriages are like a blend of two worlds, a new way of communicating is born. 

You and your husband run a cooking blog with recipes from all over the world. It's a beautiful blog!  What is cooking for you? Is it just fun and enjoyment? Or is it a great way to connect and get to know each other? 

Cooking together for us means how strong our marriage has evolved with the years. Our first year into our marriage we couldn't cook together. The reason was very simple; I am too messy, he is too clean and those two things do not go together. The first attempts were like a war zone, very defencive of what the other will do and not do. The kitchen had cooking time “owners”, if I was cooking dinner he would be out of the kitchen, if he was cooking I was out. 

For Christmas we noticed that baking cookies was one of the only things we could be in the kitchen together. Baking cookies is messy by nature, and I was happy with that and he was also fine with that. We enjoy it so much because we could be creative and crafting in the kitchen together. From then we started to cook bread, muffins and slowly we could understand each other's points of view and empathize with each other's feelings (positive and negative) that came from our behaviors. For example, Kevin is all about maximizing the time in the kitchen. If he has time to spare while cooking, he will go and clean, put things back where they belong, etc. I am more about, “let’s call my mom or your mom and show them what we are doing”, “let's play a song and dance”, “let’s talk about dreams!” Both of those qualities are important, bringing a lot of balance to our relationship not only in the cooking but also in the way we face other situations.

Took at least three years to get to this point and we love to remember how we evolved with the time and make it work. 

Do you bring recipes with you from your travels? Share one or two recipes, please. They can be your favorite recipes or just any you want to choose.

We never buy a cookbook but we are always asking people we meet on our travels “how did you cook that? What's your favorite restaurant? Or if we have friends from other countries, we also ask if they want to teach us a family recipe. Believe it or not, we have a lot of secret recipes from friends and family who want to keep those treasures private. We love those as well and never had to share. We also have a game where we go to local restaurants on our travels and try the typical plates and we try to guess what ingredients the plate has and how it was cooked. We also smell our food a lot! We know it is weird, and people probably think we are crazy but that helps us to detect spices and condiments.

Mongolian beef is one of Kevin's originals and favorites! Chicken Salad Sandwiches is one of my to go when I need a quick dinner. Look ingredients and instructions at the end of the page!

They say travel is one of the significant challenges for a couple. Is it true? 

It's totally true. Suddenly being in a different country, with different language, with different stimulations like sounds, smells, movement, signs, etc. Trying to figure out how to go from point A to point B; taxis, train, boat, metro, buses, etc. Make quick decisions like; where to eat?, jump in this train or is the other one?, turn left or right? When you have to drive on European roads or being lost and google maps doesn't work! That is 100% overwhelming. And then you are with the person that you feel more comfortable with in the world… Who do you think is going to receive all the stress from being overwhelmed? Exactly! Your partner! The perfect recipe for a fight! 

Is just like the example of cooking in the kitchen I mentioned previously. Figuring out how to work together in something simple as cooking has given us the ability to work together in other things that could be more challenging, traveling being one of them. Identifying what we are feeling from the simulations that come from visiting a new place and understanding that frustration does not come from your partner's actions or decisions for us, has been the key to make our travels work great!

Do you wish there were no boundaries in the world? Or do you already feel like a citizen of the world? 

I don't have a fully developed idea or concept on that topic yet because by nature it is very controversial. but I know from experiences that boundaries are important in a lot of aspects in life, I have no idea how the world would function with no boundaries, one president? One culture? I don't know, in my head it is very complicated trying to even think about how the world will function with no boundaries. I think some experts in the topic have the full concept designed but I haven't  done any research on that. 

And No, I don't want to feel like a Citizen of the world. What would be the point of that? Where would be the challenge of exploring and figuring out different ways to live life? “Citizen of the world” to me sounds like “ I’m comfortable wherever I go and I have it figured out” and that's a lie (at least in my case).  I love to be a traveler, facing challenges wherever I go is not easy, some days I think about going back to where I feel comfortable, safe and want to have a routine. The ups and downs of being out of your comfort zone. And then something amazing happens, something as simple as a walk in the forest or the beach, a good chat with a local, meeting amazing people, a beautiful sunset, and then I remember why I am still going out of my comfort zone. Adding to all that I am very proud of being Salvadoran! 

You've lived in several countries and have traveled to more than 20 countries. What would bring all people together? We would understand that the planet is our typical beautiful home and should be cherished.

Food. There is nothing like food to bring people together. Food is life, food is joy, food is health, food is energy, food is love! How many traditions and costumes are based on gathering for a meal? For you birthday you are more likely to gather with your family and friends to enjoy a meal and have a great time, then you have New year, Thanksgiving, the day of the death is bring food to your love ones who are no longer with you, Mayans offered food to the goods as well… we could keep going non stop.

You can subscribe to АnaCristina on Instagram, and she also has a website.

Ingredients & Instructions 

Mongolian beef 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound flank steak 
  • ¼ cup cornstarch 
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons  fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 medium onions sliced 
  • 6 stalks scallions, only the green part cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes or to taste

Instructions

Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes or ¼ inch strips. Add the beef into a bowl and coat every piece with the cornstarch. In a larger frying pan add the oil, when the oil is hot sear the beef top and bottom for about 1 minute each side. Take care not to overcook the meat or it will become tough and chewy.  When you are done place the meat aside.

In the same pan add garlic and ginger and saute for 10-15 seconds. Next add the sliced onion and the whiter half of the green onions, cook them until soft.

In a separate bowl mix soy sauce, brown sugar, chili flakes, black pepper and water. When the onions are done add the sauce mixture to the pan and bring it to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get the crust from the beef into the sauce. Then add the beef and the rest of the green onions to the pan, cook it for a minute and turn it off.

Notes

Be careful to not over cook the beef.

We recommend using a stainless steel pan to get some extra flavor from the caramelized parts.

This recipe is the way we like it. After cooking it, you will be able to modify the recipe and make it exquisite to your taste!

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Let’s talk about Chicken Salad Sandwiches... I am a fan! My favorite one is from a restaurant called Five Loaves in Charleston SC. I have been a customer of this restaurant for six years and I order the same sandwich every time I go there.  Eight months have passed since my last visit because covid so that inspired me to create my own recipe. I have to tell you, I really nailed it this time!  I personally call this sandwich: “Nailed to the sky, far up, sandwich!”

For me the perfect chicken club salad sandwich needs to have, in every bite, a piece of grape, red onion and celery. That's why I added more than normal those three ingredients. You can customize your sandwich by adding less or more of those ingredients. I don't know about you, but I do not like mayonnaise. I used plain greek yogurt instead and it gave the mix a really nice texture. Last thing, as a companion I eat my sandwich with orange slices (Like if the orange slices were french fries). The orange helps you to clean your palate and refresh the next bite. Ok, too much talk.

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 2 large chicken breast
  • ½ white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves

For the yogurt sauce

  • 1 ½ cup plain greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill chopped
  • 1 ½ Cup chopped celery (very small)
  • 1 ½ cup grapes (cut in 4 parts each grape)
  • ½ Sliced red onion

For the avocado spread

  • 1 small avocado
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp lime

Optional

  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Bacon

Boil the chicken with garlic and onion. When the chicken is ready, drain all the water and blend all the ingredients together (I like it pretty well blended).  Put it in the fridge and let it cool off.

For the yogurt sauce mix into the yogurt, ground pepper, salt, garlic powder, and dill till combined.

Place into a bowl the chicken, grapes, celery, red onion. Add the yogurt sauce and mix until the yogurt is evenly mixed with the other ingredients.

For the avocado spread mash the avocado and add salt and lime.

Now you are ready to assemble. You can do this on a baguette or in a tortilla, I preferred baguette. Spread the avocado on the top half and add the lettuce and tomato on top. On the bottom half place the chicken and make it a sandwich. Buen provecho!

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Yulia Bykova
Immigrant and writer
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