What do you miss most from home?
Anyone who has spent time away from home knows the answer to this: It is simple, and it is usually the food.
Ok, often there is something about the family and friends, but now a days it is so much easier to stay in touch. There is facebook, skype, email. Also, now a days people move around so much that often when you go home many of your friends and relatives are no longer there anyhow. When it comes to shops, you can find the same brands on any highstreet, with few exceptions. Even the coffee is the same.
So at the end of the day it is the food specialties or the fresh stuff that you just cannot get a hold of. The sweets and treats which are local, the stuff you grew up on, the little things that just don’t translate or are not worth exporting. Fresh things, like the juiciest sweetest melon, or the rather rare outside of Spain nisperos. The tinto the verano, a strange concoction made of red wine and a sweet soda. Bliss as a summer drink. Foreigners just don’t get it, which is why they don’t travel well.
Every year I watch my relatives observe disapprovingly as I chow down pink shaped sweets, or bright orange chips. After all, we are adults fighting age, time and gravity. Dieting and eating healthy should be a norm (more on that another day). And often I do feel regret, particularly as the jeans start “shrinking”, or if I decide to go shopping and have the effects stare back at me in the mirror. Then I remember it might be another 12 months before I have the chance to eat these things again. So I buy another cookie pack or order more chorizo.
Taste and smell are some of the strongest memory triggers. To me these things taste like home, like childhood. Those things that were forbidden or restricted to special occasions, as an adult are readily available (and cheap) in every corner shop. Just too darn tempting. The fact that they are only available during a small window of time seals the deal.
A pang of shame hits as I load my children with these unhealthy snacks, but another side of me feels pride as they chow the food down, knowing that they will crave these delicacies just like I crave the Peruvian food my mom still prepares on the odd occasion. In Spain, knowing what tapas to choose is the true badge of citizenship. You can learn the language, you can study the history, but the tastes you can only experience.
In my defense, there are also many healthy sweets. There is the tight and salty taste of the Serrano ham drowning in the sweet juice of the melon. There is the cold gazpacho soup bursting with vitamins from all the vegetables in it. There is the Paella, where fresh fish and vegetables mixed with rice hide behind a deceitfully fun orange fiesta resulting from the saffron stems. A taste so succulent few can resist it. Petite suise, natillas, flan, all traditional milk and egg based desserts now mass produced. Tortilla de patata. Pulpo a la gallega.....
To me they feel as much a part of my country’s history as the civil war. It is only when you are in exile, when you cannot have these things that they gain such importance.
As I write this my time home is quickly coming to an end. A tinto and an empty plate of jamon rest loyally by my side. (the cookies have in a bout of shame been hidden away, but alas I always manage to find them.) The children sleep having managed to overcome the sugar rush resulting from my Sunday splurge. I fought my six year old niece over a yogurt earlier today, and the fridge has been replenished with local cheeses and membrillo.
But a few days left before we part ways again my friends.