Mark Bittman in the last Sunday Times, wrote an article about a little town right next to the one I worked in. And he wrote beautifully about the “three sisters,” corn, beans, and squash. He described the way that old and new rub together in the contemporary life of a rural place. And he talked about Yucatecan food with such delicateness and interest that I almost laughed outloud as he painted pictures of exquisitely form balls of masa. He was invited into another world for a day and his account is just that…a beautiful look at what that can feel like.
And for me I couldn’t help but think about the tastes of his experience, what happens before, between, and after that lunch in a quaint village. I thought about the uncountable meals that were laid out before me in people’s kitchen all through Southern Mexico over the course of the year and half spent there. Each house had it’s own language of food. The habanero salsas spiciness at each house were slightly different, masa looked smelled and tasted totally different from one house to the next. When my student and collaborator Leo told me that she wanted to look at how different families ate in her town, I remember her surprise at all the different ways dishes were prepared and the lineage behind the tastes.
Some days being invited into a house where I knew food was being divided up carefully to feed as many people as possible I thought about how and why it feels nourishing to share with guests. I am not sure exactly, but in the gesture of being able to share food I could taste dignity, pride, and a challenge to be met. For someone like Mark Bittman where someone is always trying to feed him a new taste, I can only imagine what a glimpse into a kitchen where asking to be met is a challenge rather than a request must feel like.