I have been abroad for more than twenty years and when they ask me what I miss the most about being away, apart from my loved ones, without hesitation I answer: food. Despite the fact that I live in Mexico, a place with a vast and delicious gastronomy, I still yearn for a peanut soup or a chairo from La Paz —while I write, the flavors and smells come to my head. The flavors with which someone grows up become part of our personal history because food is part of our roots in the land where we are born and grow.
In the last few months, I got involved in a television cooking project that reminded me of the penchant I have for cooking and when I was wondering what I could write about for this edition, I decided to do it precisely on the culinary subject, particularly in relation to the pleasure that exists for preparing a delicious meal, the enjoyment that we experience while eating and everything that a kitchen emanates.
“The flavors with which someone grows up become part of our personal history because food is part of our roots in the land where we are born and grow”.
The format of the program is quite light: it brings together two chefs, a guest and a family. One of the chefs shares some of his or her recipes and those who are participating prepare it, while they tell stories, and also share their culinary secrets. Basically, the program is transformed into that particular and pleasant thing about cooking: the taste for sharing.
As Carlos Gaytán mentions: “It is incredible to be able to tell stories through each dish, because you realize that you captivate many souls, make palates fall in love and tell a part of yourself. With a dish people remember you for a lifetime”.
At least in Latin America, preparing food for someone is one of the most genuine gifts of love one could give; sitting around the table often becomes a ritual; food always evokes memories, and builds identities from flavors that we carry impregnated in our hearts.
On the anthropological level, and my anthropologist colleagues will surely agree with me, one of the things that is forbidden to do while carrying out fieldwork is to refuse to eat what the community where you are working offers you. Precisely because food is like an offering: they give you a meal to show you that you are welcome to their place.
“Sitting around the table often becomes a ritual; food always evokes memories, and builds identities from flavors that we carry impregnated in our hearts”.
In this sense, there is an anecdote that I love to tell: many years ago, my brother and I went to a community in the Bolivian highlands. The region is characterized by having potatoes as the fundamental base of its food, and its diversity is enormous. One of these varieties is called papalisa, its flavor is quite peculiar and it is not necessarily to the liking of all people (my brother is within that group). Once installed in the community, a group of women had dedicated themselves to making us dinner and to the surprise of my fieldwork colleague, what they had prepared for us was ají de papalisa. As a way to make that moment of eating happen as soon as possible -he knew the codes perfectly: he could not refuse what they had cooked for us-, he decided to eat as fast as he could, without thinking that this act was going to be interpreted in another way for the women who were at the table with us. “Look, the young man liked it a lot, serve him another plate”, said the main cook.
Years have passed and that anecdote is still one of my favorites of what happens to you when you are “guest” at the table of others, and I brought it up to these lines to also emphasize how endearing it is to cook. In the private sphere, we do not cook for just anyone, because doing so means many things, but above all, that a little piece of you goes in that dish.
Food is also closely related to various relevant social processes, such as the one I shared with you a few lines ago, where the meaning of sharing your food for the communities is to make you feel welcome through preparing for you that food. In other contexts, food, beginning with a large banquet, can also represent a display of power or social status.
“Food is also closely related to various relevant social processes”.
Around the table and with a good meal, problems are solved, joys are told and enacted, deals are closed, secrets are told; food is usually the best excuse to bring together your loved and important people.
Probably one of the few redeeming things that the COVID-19 pandemic brought us is that during confinement many people decided to return or enter their kitchen for the first time, to invent dishes, or simply to re-prepare their favorite foods. Some of us even had the fortune to pick up the phone and call our mother to ask her about a recipe, the one that only she knows and it is exquisite. Of course, we cannot forget that, because of some of those magical things that cooking has, sharing recipes is not enough; for the Latin American idiosyncrasy, the recipe may be the same, but the seasoning of each person makes the final result of each stew different, depending on who prepared it.
My son Diego recounts that when he visited his father, he would ask his grandmother for “mama’s soup”, and when she asked him what that was, and he told her it was a noodle soup. When they prepared it for him, his answer was: “this is not mom’s soup”. And of course he was absolutely right, because, even a simple noodle soup can have multiple nuances of flavors, precisely, depending on who prepares it.
Finally, I recognize that among my pleasures, there are two that I dearly enjoy: preparing food for the people I love, and of course, eating, especially when food, in addition to filling the stomach, also fills the heart. So, in addition to having enjoyed my article, I hope I have made you want to run to your kitchens, prepare your favorite food, and share it with the people you care about.
1 To Julián Fernández, for having given me the opportunity to be in a project that has given me one of the most enjoyable work experiences in recent times, and to Carlos Gaytán, who reminded me of the pleasure I feel when I start to cook.
2 Chef Carlos Gaytán, first Mexican to win a Michelin star.
3 Papalisa chili is a typical dish from the Bolivian highlands region, it has papalisa, peas, potatoes, onion, red chili and is usually accompanied with rice.
Is a Bolivian-Mexican; feminist, mother of a teenager, music lover, lover of concerts and soccer. Ethnologist from the National School of Anthropology and History with master’s studies in Human Development at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Argentina. A human rights defender, she has worked mainly on women’s rights and cultural rights in different spaces, from civil society and public service.