Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chopped Contestants Would Lose Their S@*&.

On Wednesday I gave a lesson on “Adverbs of Frequency,” or to the intuitive English speaker, words like always, sometimes, and never. To describe these things using visual aid, I made pictures of the things we eat here on campus.

Choppin' with the super dented chicken killin' knife.
Never: Pizza, hamburgers, ice cream.
Sometimes: Baleadas, pastelitos, watermelon.
Always: Beans, eggs, tortillas. (and coffee)

Beans, eggs, tortillas, beans, eggs, tortillas, refried beans, whole beans, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, boiled eggs, corn tortillas, flour tortillas. B.E.T. You can bet on it. 

It’s no secret that my life’s joy derives from food. I love to have my hands in it, chop it, wizz it, bake it, fry it, simmer it, pickle it, freeze it: and then, eat it. I thought living in Taiwan with one gas burner, a magazine sized counter space and no oven was “roughing it.” But those were “Developing World” issues. What we’re dealing with here are stagnant, rural, necessity driven Third World issues.

In the kitchen there is a large concrete sink. The water is not safe to drink. Next to the sink is the drinking water bucket (purified on campus using a UV filtration system), which is quite the advanced amenity. To the other side, there is an “oven,” but it’s only been used once since I’ve been here.

The main attraction is the stove, a giant metal flat top over a wood burning fire hole. This thing is no joke: I’d measure it at about 30 tortillas large, if you had them end to end. From 6AM to 7PM, the fire is going, and something is cooking. It’s probably beans.

Hacemos pankekes! (My co-teacher and I.)
The students rotate cooking duties weekly. It’s easy to tell which students are having a good week, and which are not, by the creativity put into the meals. One guarantee, though, is that the CD player is always blasting, and everyone is always singing. The CD player generally produces disgustingly static undertones, but the enthusiastic voices compensate.

There is a curious “Feast or Famine” culture toward food here. When we get supplies, there is a frenzy to consume. Last week there was a giant bag of mangos that disappeared within days; girls were walking around with hands full of them from breakfast to dinner (and us too.) The green vegetables always go first. We had cabbage for a few days, and broccoli. We’re scraping the bottom of the pile today, with onions, potatoes, and some green peppers. Oh yes, and carrots, but we ate those for breakfast.

I have lost weight. I eat everyone’s leftover beans and put margarine on my tortillas, but it’s never exactly enough. Whenever someone goes down the mountain, they bring back sweet bread and cookies. This disappears ridiculously fast.

And it has become obvious: even in the most obscure, rural, poor places, where hoarding is common (and yet body image issues for women still run rampant) – food is still a cultural focus, it is still the center of the community, and it is still beloved. There has not been a day yet I’ve been upset to see any combination of the beans/eggs/tortillas on a plate, because this food was treated with as much love and importance as would be in a recently stocked Berkeley Bowl kitchen.

I would love to see an episode of Chopped in our kitchen. They have no idea.

1 comment:

  1. Mija...

    As always, your story telling makes the adventure come alive. Sounds like your reoccurring mystery basket ingredients (B.E.T.) are a challenge for sure - so, keep on lathering on the mantequilla. Food is a universal language and your speak it with heart and soul.

    Te amo. Brazos y bessos.