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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Celebrating Food

Fabada asturiana

Celebrating Food

Sometimes I think that I probably spend too much time writing and thinking about food, not to mention the time I spend actually cooking and eating. I could understand how other people probably think that I am a bit obsessed about the subject. I guess that you could say that cooking is sort of a hobby for me, but it's not like building model railroads or collecting stamps. You have to eat everyday. Unless you live at home and your mom cooks for you then you are going to have to make a lot of that food yourself. You can either eat well or not.

Sometimes eating can be a chore but it should often be a celebration. From what I have learned of Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek cultures, they choose to celebrate food much more than we do in America. I don't mean this as a criticism of Americans, it's just that these cultures put a higher value on food than Americans or the British do. I would say that Americans and British people put a higher value on comedy than these Mediterranean cultures I mentioned. They could definitely learn from us on this particular subject. At least for me, laughter is as essential as eating, but for now I am talking about cooking and the role food plays and should play in our lives.

Spanish food is fairly simple, for the most part. Most people here aren't particularly sophisticated about the food they eat or how they cook it. I think that the French are much more savvy about cooking techniques and food preparation than the Spanish. This doesn't mean that the people in Spain don't have a reverence for food. A casual walk through the lovely Mercado de Ruzafa will demonstrate just how highly Valencianos value what they put on their tables. It's not just a matter of the quality of the food people buy, it is the very way that they choose their food. Supermarkets are popular in Spain but most people buy a good portion of their staples at their local market.

In the market people have a closer bond with the food they purchase. In the stalls of the market you deal directly with people who know their products intimately. There is a degree of customer service in the market that you would only expect in a fine jewelry store or a pampering health spa. I go regularly to the same stalls at my market and have developed a pretty firm relationship with all of the merchants. I have a level of rapport with my butcher that Dick Cheney probably has with his heart surgeon. Considering how much pork I buy from my butcher, I should probably ask for the phone number of Dick's surgeon.

You can enjoy food without parting with a lot of money. It is up to all of us to savor the simplest things: a ripe tomato, a perfectly hard boiled egg, a glass of modest wine, a mug of great beer, a loaf of freshly baked bread, or an olive. I think that one of the things I admire so much about the Spanish is that they really make an effort to stop their lives every day to sit down to the table for their afternoon meal. It isn't even called lunch here; lunch is just a little snack they have before noon. The afternoon meal begins at around 2 pm and is their most important of the day. Even after all this time here I still have trouble adopting this daily ritual, and I really like to eat. It's just difficult for me to stop whatever it is I am doing and sit down at the table. This simple act is what elevates the status of food for the Spanish. It doesn't really matter what it is they are eating, the respect they give the meal is what is important.

You can show a lot of respect for just about any sort of food or drink just by presenting it well. I
For example, it's rare to see people here eating potato chips out of the bag. They decant the chips into a bowl before serving. That doesn't sound like much but it all adds up. A meal without a glass of wine is almost unthinkable in these Mediterranean countries. I think that the wine is almost as valuable for its symbolism as it is for the taste it contributes. Wine is like a secular prayer that we enjoy at the table. Since we don't really have an English equivalent (how odd), I will say it in French and Spanish (blogger won't accept Greek). Bon appetit! ¡Buen provecho!

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