Did you realize that you have a specific food culture? Food is a major connector for cultures and ethnicities. It ranks in the top 3 topics of how people relate to each other when they meet. Immigrants often talk about food patterns and customs, and food is one way that they retain their identity.
When we first moved to Spain, we began attending a church where there were many Central and South Americans. One Sunday after services, I found myself seated next to a woman that I did not know. In the process of introducing myself and trying to open a conversation, I found out that she was an immigrant from Nicaragua. It just so happens that while we lived and served in Costa Rica, we worked among Nicaraguan immigrants and refugees! So we had the beginnings of a connection. But the number one thing that surfaced was FOOD! The foods that we missed from that region. We found ourselves reminiscing about gallo pinto and fried yucca. We dreamed of guanabana juice and platanos fritos, of tres leches cake and Central American coffee. We were instantly connected as we remembered the deliciousness of the region and her eyes danced as we talked of foods that meant ‘home’ to her. It is no wonder that we are very good friends even to this day! We had good beginnings—a culture of food.
When I have met Peruvians outside of Peru, we almost immediately begin talking about food. Oh, how I miss Cordero al Palo, ceviche, pachamanca, and aji de gallina (my favorite!). What I wouldn’t do to have my friend, Liz, make one more Causa Limeña for me, or papas Huancaina, or Rocoto Relleno. Oh my goodness… I shouldn’t be writing this while I’m waiting for lunch! Yummmmm!!!!! (I just might have a problem with food…)
Here in Spain, there is also a specific food culture. Yes, there are specific dishes that are regional favorites and no self-respecting Andaluz would ever live without… porra and gazpacho, berenjena con miel (fried eggplant with honey), pulpo Gallego (octopus), and Spanish tortilla (crust less egg and potato quiche). But there is also a life and norms around food. Specific times of day for specific meals or breaks, and what foods are allowable at those times. For example, Spaniards do not eat eggs for breakfast. An omelet or a quiche or an egg casserole is considered ’too strong’ for a breakfast meal. Breakfast consists of breads and possibly serrano ham and a fresh tomato puree. There are social norms that revolve around food patterns. Meals are social events. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours over a lunch with someone… any less would be disrespectful and rude. Meals are to be lingered over and savored, and the company is to be savored even more! There is no culture of ‘eat and run’ or a ‘quick lunch’. Fast food is actually translated to “comida de basura” (trash food) and is looked down upon by all but the youngest generations. And portion sizes are scrutinized… a drink over 12 ounces is considered excessive, unless it is water. A local friend was recently appalled at the idea that soft drinks come in 32 and 44 ounce sizes in the USA.
In Spain, the lunch time meal is the big meal of the day. It is a time to go home from school or work and the entire family gathers around the table. This is the large cooked meal of the day. Businesses close down at 2pm so that everyone can go home for lunch. Then socialization and table talk. Then a rest. It is very common, if not expected, that after a meal and a time of socialization and rest, a walk is in order. It is very common to see entire families out taking a stroll after a meal. Then back to work at 5pm and work until 8 or 9. The evening meal is light… fruit or cheese or yogurt or a light sandwich if you are in the house. Many choose, instead, to opt for relationship and take an evening stroll in town, stopping for a tapa (small appetizer) and a time with friends in the cool of the evening… a couple of hours over a small bite in a café and lots of talking and laughter.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!