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Abuela TikToker Salty Cocina Is Passing Down Important Family Recipes To The Next Generation

Photo credit: Courtesy of Salty Cocina / Illustrations by Niege Borges
Photo credit: Courtesy of Salty Cocina / Illustrations by Niege Borges


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Many of us grew up watching our abuelitas, tías and madres in the kitchen—with the smell of fresh cilantro, the bubble of black beans simmering, the constant sound of knives chopping up onions and garlic for everything from salsa to soup. They were dishes that made family gatherings come alive. In some cases the secret ingredients and techniques that made them so special got passed down, but in other cases they were lost before we could learn to create them for ourselves.

Ana M. Regalado, an abuela to four grandkids, has found an innovative way to share her love of Mexican cooking and some of her family’s prized recipes: on TikTok! Soft-spoken but always upbeat, Ana, who goes by the name @SaltyCocina on the platform, teaches viewers how to make her recipes in short videos. Snippets of sizzling onions, fresh chile peppers and diced tomatoes flash onscreen while Ana sweetly narrates, with her easy-to-follow instructions set to music from her homeland in a way that’s both enticing and inspiring.

Over the past two years, SaltyCocina has reached an audience of millions, but the project, like Ana herself, had humble beginnings. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, she began to think more about what she wanted to pass down to younger generations. Around that time, her kids introduced her to TikTok as a way to pass the time. She started by watching other creators for inspiration and then made a TikTok account featuring her family and her pets. A few months later, she moved on to making cooking videos to share her knowledge with her own family.

“With the pandemic, we didn’t know what was gonna happen, so I figured I’d make an online cookbook for my kids just in case,” she says. Little did she know how popular her “FoodToks” would become. “When it really took off is when I made a salsa in the molcajete,” she says. “I didn’t really explain it. I was just kind of throwing the ingredients in there with Mexican music in the background, and everybody loved it.” That video quickly gained popularity, getting 100,000 views in a matter of days.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Come from the pueblito, now we’re here

Her online fame is a far cry from her experience growing up in a small pueblito outside of Fresnillo in the Mexican state of Zacatecas in the 1970s. “We didn’t have running water, electricity, anything like that,” Ana says. “So everything had to be done by hand.” She remembers having to get water from the well and seeing her mother milk the cows and cook over a wooden stove. “Although I wasn’t a lot of help back then, I was always in the kitchen watching, because I love to eat,” she says.

When her family moved to the United States in 1980, however, her mother had to work full time and began to rely more on prepackaged items for her cooking. “She didn’t really have the time to make everything by hand anymore, so all those traditions kind of started fading away,” Ana says. But as she got more interested in cooking herself, she realized she didn’t want that to happen.

Ana continued to cook throughout her youth and into her adulthood, preparing meals for her growing family. She combined the knowledge she had gleaned from those days spent watching her own abuela and mother in their kitchens with recipes she made on her own over time (mostly Mexican, but occasionally also Chinese and Italian).

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Family has always been her inspiration

Some of her cooking and creativity throughout her life has been influenced by circumstance. Her financial situation wasn’t great during her first marriage or when she became a single parent, so she learned to make do with whatever ingredients she had on hand. “My easiest dishes to prepare are papas con chile, homemade refried beans and, of course, nopales,” she says.

Even Ana’s signature look on TikTok is a tribute to her family. Her paternal abuela, Arnulfa, whom she called Abuelita Nuffa, is the inspiration behind her trenzas, or braids, which take her 15 to 20 minutes to do each day (She made a TikTok showing followers how to replicate the look). “My trenzas remind me so much of her. And she was always the one in the kitchen. She would make her fresh tortillas with huevitos y salsa and a glass of tea,” Ana says of visiting her abuela in the morning when they still lived in Mexico. “When I make those, it just takes me back to her kitchen.”

Ana also counts her in-laws as influences. Her mother-in-law was a chef at a prestigious home for the elderly in Cuernavaca, and her late father-in-law shared his love of grilling with her. “He used to love to cook outside and make carnitas,” she says.

But these days, Ana’s biggest driver is the love she has for her large immediate family, including five living children (two others have passed) and five grandchildren as well as Ricardo, her husband of 20 years. The two frequently cook together, and he’s been very supportive of her social media work, helping her film her videos and even making an appearance or two.

“When I became a grandma, the connection made my heart bigger,” she says. When her first grandchild arrived, her daughter was living with her, so she got to see him 24/7 for the first two years of his life. Today, all her grandchildren still live no more than 20 minutes away from her.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Making connections through food

Ana’s TikToks, for everything from quick and easy mole to nopalitos rancheros to a basic green salsa, have transformed her into a social media star. As of press time, SaltyCocina has reached an audience of 2.5 million.

Thanks to her platform, Ana even gets recognized on the street in Maricopa, Arizona, where she and Ricardo live. One day she told him she’d be running to the pharmacy for just a moment. “I was in there for like an hour because people at the pharmacy were like, ‘Oh my God, I know you!’ and they were taking pictures,” she says. She’s still getting used to the attention, but her children and grandkids love that she’s “famous.”

Ana often collaborates with other creators and has also worked with a number of big brands like Mazola Corn Oil and Cardenas Market. She was even selected as one of TikTok’s Latinx Creatives of 2021, and she recently released a cookbook containing some of her favorite recipes, Nana’s Traditional Recipes.

As an older TikToker, Ana has also managed to find new friendships and community on the platform while sharing her love of cooking with younger generations of Latinx kids who might have felt intimidated to try the recipes of their own abuelas.

“Some of those recipes I was given as a child, sometimes you don’t think you can make them, and I wanted to show people that they’re so easy to prepare,” she explains. “What I enjoy the most is when people comment that some of the recipes I create remind them of how their grandma used to cook for them, how their mom used to cook for them. Or how I remind them of their mom, or their grandma. And to me, that’s exactly what I wanted to put out there.”

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned


This story was created as part of From Our Abuelas in partnership with Lexus. From Our Abuelas is a series running across Hearst Magazines to honor and preserve generations of wisdom within Latinx and Hispanic communities. Go to oprahdaily.com/fromourabuelas for the complete portfolio.

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