Food for me is home. “Food”, by which I mean the authentic savour of home-made Honduran tamales, yuca con chicharrón, Gambian benachin rice, fufu with beef stew, and German bratkartoffeln (perhaps German food a bit less). That and only that is what I call “food”. Because when I eat it I am reminded of my kitchen in Comayagüela, my clothes, hair and skin drenched with the smell of boiled maize flour and burnt charchoal because the water was ‘gone’ and I had to shower for my friend’s birthday party with the water from la pila, in which little bits and ingredients of tamales had fallen into. Benachin rice, it carries the taste of dry Saharan dust blown into our house from the monsoon winds. German food brings unhappy memories which is why I have no real words associated with it but nevertheless I will include it in my repertoire of homes.
My definition of food is therefore a conglomeration of happy, less happy moments and every shade of feeling in between. It is by no means something associated with gourmet and taste.
So there is one more kitchen that is also my home. This genus of food has a repertoire of species of dishes which are, to my knowledge, international and thus homeless per se. Because they have been forcefully planted in a new region regardless of their environment, some haven’t grown any roots. They almost always have an overall bland, vapid, and distinctively undistinctive taste. These sad dishes are at home in the Country Club of Tegucigalpa, the Bungalow Beach Hotel in Banjul, just as much at a Belgian seaside restaurant. The menu available at poolsides is my favourite species, I recall having countless such tasteless dishes while enjoying an empty pool all to myself. Its repertoire includes the standard Club Sandwhich, with white bread whose degree of bad quality and insipidness depends very much on whether the country it is being created in has white bread at all. Let us not even begin to dwell on the quality of its ham or bacon. Papery and salty Fried Potatoes, too dry, too thick, too burnt. The Cheese Omelette with the overpriced but cheap yellow cheese, accompanied by the ubiquitous Vanilla Milkshake.
And now for my favourite of this unhappiest of lists: the Shrimp Cocktail. While savouring its blended mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard I had a sudden certainty. I became aware that its ingredients were all imported. I was priviledged. The whole cocktail, in its long tall, thick glass, belonged all to me. From the first delicious, fat shrimp on top to the last drop I could scrape with the long spoon beneath the lettuce leaf. I had no duty whatsoever to share it with anyone, and no one to share it with even if I had wanted. I was lonely. It was a new dish, nothing at all like my enchiladas, my taquitos and arroz con sopa the frijoles. I was homesick. I savoured the coolness of the sauce with the sea taste of the shrimps while the afternoon sun sparkled on the empty pool water. The loneliness made the pool water smooth like a mirror. I was not thirsty, not hungry, not cold. I sucked at the last juicy shrimps, soaked in the now watery sauce. I tasted the loneliness even more. It was a bright, quiet afternoon of pleasure and fun, with no wants at all. I thought this to myself and forgot everything with the next dive, the warm water washed away my thoughts. They resurfaced again only many years later, in my senior year, in the middle of a party night. Between drinks, friends, darkness and laughter, I tasted the exquisite saltiness of my shrimps and wondered about its similarity to the salt in our tears.
©Kenna Lee Edler