Calling The Food Fairy (article)

The following article appeared in the June 23rd edition of the Trinidad Express. Even though I have been back home for 7 years now I keenly remember what it was like to be living in an area with little to no access to the ‘tastes of home’. Writer Ric Hernandez’ piece does a wonderful job I think of capturing that literal (and metaphorical hunger).

Calling the food fairy
Ric Hernandez

Saturday, June 23rd 2007

The idea of coming home triggers in me thoughts of Pavlov’s dogs: through applied stimuli they were taught to salivate on cue. The thought of home and home food is such a stimuli and, I must admit, I’m salivating.

It is not that I have forgotten friends; nor do I want to conjure up recollections of Ocean, that legendary eater, famed for being able to put away food by the gallon.

It’s just that while you are quite able to approximate life at home through the Internet, it is less easy to summon up the flavours and textures of even (particularly!) the simplest foods.

So while, upon returning, you will naturally seek out people and places that are part of you, it still remains true that you are largely (no pun) what you’ve eaten, so the call of home cuisine is like a call from yourself.

Today, we have all kinds of near haute cuisine in Port of Spain: French, Italian, and Middle Eastern, among them. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

A friend who knows about these things tells me that Italian cuisine is based on what he called “la cocina povera,” translated loosely as poor people food.

True, our poor people food is far from having evolved into the national menu, but that’s what I’ve been hankering for, food that even the poorest can, and do, routinely prepare and enjoy.

I guess we have been set up. We’re staying in a part of the world where the cuisine is largely Mexican or southwestern. Refried beans abound; you’re surrounded by tacos and, if anything, you have more rice than you would get at home.

The conditions bring about emanations from home, unbidden, and these pop-ups have as much to do with food as it does with images of people and places.

3-3779058And it does come as a surprise that you would be suddenly assailed by a memory of crix or corned beef; and a vision of pelau can leave you fairly stricken.

All this, of course, has been magnified at the prospect of coming home, of indulging among people you care about and miss.

Abroad one has to contend with, for instance, vegetable soup: and I’m not one to rail against a perfectly good combination. But even poor people in, say, Lengua or Poona Junction have, in our sancoche, a markedly superior version!

I can just picture a big iron pot brimming with this serious soup, the consistency just this side of opaque, with the serving spoon almost able to stand in it; green figs and dasheen lending a bluish hue to the medley; and the purist just being able to detect a hint of lubrication, bespeaking the presence of a few carefully chosen eddoes; all abiding in harmony with chunks of that ambrosial tuber, sweet cassava!

Sancoche! Almost worth being poor.

Bake, another item from the poor people menu. I’m afraid many youths today, especially in towns, are not having enough bake in their lives; possibly because fast-food bakes are not readily available.

But this countryside staple on mornings is simple, straightforward and, even without the garnish of coconut, remains a down home delight that stirs memory.

Bake and butter will do; bake and buljol is princely. Another item taking a back seat is my East Indian version of bake, the under-rated sada roti.

The evolution of the curry phenomenon, particular in those emporia in town, has, with reason, elevated dhalpourri to a place of prominence, with even the cholesterol-heady paratha in the line up; but sada has been relegated to an also-ran position.

This is, of course, a mistake, and too many people who patronise the curry shops do so without sufficient acquaintance with the unsung sada.

If you doubt me, ask someone from Felicity or Fyzabad to indulge you with a fresh sada roti accompanied by a smoky baigan (eggplant) choka. You will experience a mild transport, I assure you, and want to cherish this extended repertoire.

From Taran Rampersad’s Flickr set

Incidentally, when abroad I have been moved to fall back on pita in some Greek restaurants to evoke the notion of sada, even to asking for an extra serving!

Recently we have been undergoing a regimen that includes an excessive amount of carb counting and label reading. This naturally presents a problem, or an opportunity, when confronted by some of the fancies I have been harbouring.

But I hope the Food Fairy will understand, and be forgiving, even while granting a boon or two.