The Cheat talks paella, ham and doughnuts with his mother. A soon to be classic Spanorama.
My mother called me Sunday, which is a bit of a ritual with us. In between all the usual crap about how her car is dying, how cold it is in Toronto, and perfunctory questions about my marital status and whether or not she should ever expect me to settle down, mom caught me off guard by popping a curve ball question: “What’s Spanish food like?”
Well, that’s an easy one. Here I was thinking that I’d have to launch into another explanation as to why I am struggling to make ends meet 10,000 miles from home by writing for an online magazine. “Mom, Spanish food is oily. Take anything you like eating, add a lot of oil and unsavoury looking fishy bits, and deep fry.” I told her about paella and how it was originally from Valencia then continued into descriptions of fideua and crème catala.
“That’s Crème Brûlé.” She said.
“Maybe it is. Anyway mom, who cares? I don’t host a cooking show.” Suddenly it occurred to me that she wasn’t interested in the food at all, but rather this was her covert way of determining if I was eating well, or indeed, had learned anything about the place in which I was living.
Looking at it objectively, many foods here resemble those of other cultures. Take paella, for instance. Is this not like the stir fry we used to get at Mr. Lucky Wok in the food court at the mall? Sure looks similar. Ok, Mr. Wok’s was a little more, how shall I say this, MSG flavoured, but we always came back for more. And don’t forget that just like there is a difference between authentic Valencian paella with chicken, rabbit and vegetables and Catalan -some say cheap-ass-tourist, paella marisco; so too there lies a chasm between Mr. Wok’s chicken and curry stir fry. The curry is usually sloppier, and to some therefore of a superior quality. The Catalans will agree to the parallel.
Bacon, or jamon as we call it here is another one. In the Americas, we like our bacon sliced thick, and fried up or grilled in any number of ways and served with breakfast. “Mom,” I began “Its like that here too. Every bar in the country has tons of jamon on the tables”. Of course I neglected to tell her that in Spain its literally an entire cured leg of pig, complete with a hoof bolted down to a wooden contraption that surely evolved from some torture device used by the Spanish Inquisition. I also neglected to mention the old guys at the bar who gingerly slice stringy bits off to gnaw on in between beers.
“It’s all just like home, they even have doughnuts.” I was winding up, clearly on a roll proud of how neatly I tied it all together. Spanish donuts (pronounced doe-noot) have in all honesty strayed pretty far from their American origins, despite whatever Stars and Stripes graphics on the packaging may infer. Largely flavourless and glazed in a pure white sugar resin, they manage to attack the pancreas and healthy teeth in a way that I am sure would make any biological weapons laboratory proud. With all this fine eating, I am continuously amazed that the locals haven’t all succumbed to diabetes in epidemic proportions, but then again, they manage to offset a lot of their ill habits with fresh cigarettes and plenty of healthy sunshine. Life is all about balance buddy.
“I am want for nothing” I concluded. One should always reassure one’s mother.