Food is somewhat of a sensitive subject here in Spain. Or more specifically, here in my apartment.
First of all, when I first arrived here a year ago, I couldn’t cook anything to save my life. I was “constructively criticized” by almost all my roommates: the German girl, the Italian boy, the Spanish girl. All of them. Fortunately they gave me some good cooking tips and I can now successfully whip up lots of things.
However, food, as an essential part of life for anyone, is much more to all of the Europeans. We all know the French are famous for their baguettes, the Italians for their rich pastas, the Spanish for their tapas and jamones, and Americans, well, we aren’t European but I’ve been suffering hamburger jokes for over a year now.
Let me back up with a little story: Last year, my French friend, Ju Lie came over to our place when Carlo had a bunch of his guy friends over to visit from Italy. They had prepared this enormous dish of some Italian pasta. That’s when Ju Lie made her first offense. She scooped up all the pasta she wanted, but failed to finish her plate. All the Italian guys were in an uproar. Apparently not completing a dish of pasta is a major strike to their culture and customs.
Part two, she then proceeded to use said half-eaten plate of pasta as an ashtray. At this point, they all jumped out of there seats and gave her an enormous (but hilarious and very playful and joking) scolding. Then my favorite part: They pinned to our wall, “The Black List.” And guess whose name was the first to go on there? Ju Lie’s. And now she’s prohibido entrar (forbidden to enter.)
Of course these guys were just giving her a hard time, but there really are strict eating rules here. That’s where my American culture comes in (which shines through bright as day with my lack of cooking skills, apparently.) When my friend Kara came to visit, she was added to the Black List as well because my friend Juan slaved over making a wonderful Spanish Tortilla and Kara decided to throw on some American hot sauce all over the top of it, which clearly is a major offense to the Spanish.
As for me, when asked if we have ketchup (which never happens), of course, me, the American, has a bottle of Heinz (I’m sorry I can’t settle for any other brand, I’ve just got to have the best.) Also, last year a bottle of my favorite (and Denver-favorite) Rooster Sauce (Sriracha) was tossed away without acknowledgment.
Now I love all the European dishes. Who doesn’t love a great bowl of Fetuccini? Or some rich French wine? Or some thick Spanish chorizo? But I have to admit, that there are so many flavors from home that I miss and that I love more. We don’t get good Mexican food here at all. If there is a restaurant that somewhat has a clue, it’s really expensive. I’ve searched hundreds of times for a Pho restaurant and they are all completely unheard of. Want Indian food? You have to go to London for that.
So now that I’m back in Spain for the third time, I’ve come prepared: Full bottle of Rooster Sauce, full bottle of Famous Dave’s Devil Spit hot Bar-b-que sauce, and the American necessity of a full bottle of Ranch dressing. When I arrived this month, Marta was quick to notice and commented on all my sauces. Other friends of mine saw them in my cupboard and all pulled them out and read their labels. My buddy Luis saw the bottle of Famous Dave’s and laughed playfully at its subtitle: Devil’s Spit.
So last night, I ended up eating dinner with Carlo and Erika, my two Italian roommates, Alessandro, Carlo’s friend, and Miriam, Erika’s friend. So it was me in a room full of Italians. We cooked side-by-side; me preparing garlic home fry potatoes, pork chops, and some vegetables. They made some creamy mushroom-clad pasta dish and chicken. I ended up making too many potatoes and shared them with all of them. Everyone gladly tried them and said they were good, but only Carlo dared pour ketchup on his plate.
I couldn’t imagine eating home fries without ketchup; I don’t think any American could. But all the Italians stayed away from it like it was the plague. I asked them all to put just a simple little pinch on their potatoes so that they were, as I said, “authentically American,” which only Erika was brave enough to put a smidge on her forkful.
In the next few meals that I eat here, I know I’ll be making bar-b-que chicken (with my hot sauce), I’ll be putting Rooster Sauce on all my pastas, and throwing Ranch on all the salads I’ll be making. I’m sure I’ll endure more comments from the Europeans, but in the end, it’s honestly the little tastes of home that help get me by. Especially when you’re at dinner with all Italians and you are all alone in the conversation because you don’t speak a lick of their language, the only thing you need in that moment is a reminder of where you come from. And for me, that was something as simple as ketchup to remind me that I’m not the only person in the world that doesn’t speak Italian and that lathers on ketchup all over everything.
Tonight, as I ate alone, I devoured a baked potato drenched in Ranch, and I couldn’t help but think and feel as if I were sitting in Mom and Pop’s kitchen munching away on food slobbered in fat, greasy, slimy American sauces.
I’ll always stand by American cuisine as the being the best, regardless of the complaints all the Europeans will give me.
God Bless America.