Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Se Bilingue—I Speak Food

Se Bilingue—I Speak Food
            In the months I have been in Mazatlan, I have collected referrals for several ways to enhance my poor command of Spanish. But all seem to be formal classes. No thank you. If small children point and laugh at me for my misuse of tense or gender, so be it. My desire is to understand, be understood, and interact in everyday situations.

            Like most gringos, I start with the elementary please, thank you, and where is the bathroom. From there I progressed to a smattering of weather and health words. But with my mangled Spanglish, I sparkle when conversation centers around food.

            You might think I’m obsessed with food. You might think, oh goodness, she’ll return to Montana, a five-hundred pound mama-grande! Quite the contrary, I have been forced to discard most of the clothing I brought with me. I don’t have a scale. I’ve no idea how much I’ve dropped. I’m not skinny. But I sport a new wardrobe. I eat all I want and what I want. My secret? No secret. I live on fresh fruits and vegetables, local grown, along with fish of the day’s catch.  Am I bragging? You betcha!

            Mazatlan is a large city of numerous small villages. For example, I live in Colonia Sabalo Country Club. That doesn’t mean it’s a swank area. My village, about four streets by eight long streets, shaped like a milkweed seed pod, is bordered by a world-famous golf course and the ocean. In this relatively small area are numerous “markets”, bakeries and restaurants. Most of the restaurants along the water cater to American-style Mexican food tastes, geared for touristas. Inland, they cater to the local appetites. I call it eating “on the street”, since most of the eateries are open air, sidewalk café or food carts. 

            Me, when I eat out, I prefer to eat “on the street”. And since Reuben and Sylvia run the luncheria, two doors down, on the corner, they have introduced me to many gustatory experiences. I run to them with my questions of what is in “this” and how do you make it. With help, I am becoming quite the traditional “Mexican” cook.

            A few weeks ago Reuben asked me if I would like to order a container of capirotada for Friday. “What is it?” “You’ll like it. It is a popular traditional Lenten dish.”  Now I’m curious; therefore, sold. And after my first taste, I had to learn how to make this wondrous tempting Mexican version of bread pudding. I had no choice.

There are as many recipes as there are cooks, which suits me fine. A recipe is a guide, to be loosely followed and enhanced when possible. Any cook can put together dried bread chunks, whatever nuts you have on hand, raisins, figs, slices of plantain or banana, prunes, cubed goat cheese, seasoned with a syrup made of cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, butter and water. Be adventurous with the fruits and nuts. Do you think firewater in the syrup might enhance the dish? Be adventurous!  

When talking with Arturo, my physical therapist, during treatment the other day, the topic turned to food. I mentioned that one of my favorite foods is poblano peppers. I favor poblano soup or strips of poblano and onion in a cream sauce. So Arturo told me how to make a different kind of chilies relleno with poblano, stuffed with tuna, covered with grated Chihuahua cheese and cream, pop on a lid and simmer about 20 minutes or so. I added chopped walnuts and a few raisins to the tuna, and, oh my! Heaven on a plate.

Food is easy to talk about. Most of us are shy about speaking any foreign language. Guess what? Most Mexicans are just as shy about speaking English with us. 

Along came Liz Valdez, a young trilingual student recently returned from school in France. She organized a chance to eat and talk. The format for “Se Bilingue” is simple. We congregate at Rico’s Café, in Zona Dorado, the next village south, a short walk down the street for me, where we will converse with a partner in Spanish for seven minutes, then switch to English for seven minutes. We change partners four times. What a brilliant idea! Make language a social event, not a class.  Bonus: the event is free. For food, I pay.

I’m excited. I signed up to start next Tuesday. I’m shy. But I know I can speak food.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

March 26, 2015

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