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Ropa vieja, which is Spanish for "Old Clothes," is a popular dish of the Canary Islands, Cadiz, Greater Miami and the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. It is a shredded flank, brisket or skirt steak in a tomato sauce base.
Ropa vieja originated in Havana (Cuba), which were the last place ships from Spain would stop on the way to the Americas. They were also the first place that Spanish ships coming from the Americas would stop en route back to Spain. Due to this, Canarian culture is very similar to the Caribbean as well as Spain. The Canarian Spanish dialect of Spanish spoken there is very similar to the Caribbean and sounds extremely close to the dialects of Cuba and Puerto Rico, due to heavy and continuous immigration to both islands. This is how ropa vieja arrived in the islands; with the Canarian immigrants. The original version of ropa vieja contained leftovers, but later became a shredded meat dish with chickpeas and potatoes in the Canary Islands.
Some versions in the Canary Islands contain beef, chicken or pork, or a combination of any of the three. The dish is a national feature of Cuba and does not have chickpeas or potatoes in Cuba; it is just the shredded meat in sauce. Various shredded-meat-in-sauce versions of the dish are prepared in Venezuela and are called carne mechada. This is a part of the Venezuelan national dish, pabellón criollo, which includes the carne mechada, caraotas negras (black beans), platano maduro frito (fried ripe (sweet) plantains), arroz blanco (white rice), and sometimes arepitas (small arepas).
There are many theories as to how the dish was named. One of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes (ropa vieja) and imbued them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned the clothes into a wonderful beef stew.
In Veracruz, México, ropa vieja is made with shredded beef, mint, garlic, tomato and onions and cooked with eggs.
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- Ropa Vieja as made in Cuba
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