Raw Ethnography

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“In a cultural universe that sets considerable store by a host of heterogeneous persons, groups, forces, and powers, food (whether “hot” or “cold,” raw or cooked, sacred or sullied) always raises the possibility of homogenizing the actors linked by it, whether they are husband or wife, servant or master, worshiper or deity.” (Appadurai 1981: 507)

Appadurai’s point keeps popping up in my head, especially when I encounter people from other cultures. Food is always an exciting topic to talk about. It is a great way to make conversations, and it seems to be an important key to understand a specific culture. Conversations about food can reveal pride, household conditions, courtesy and gender roles.

Last week I visited a “frintanga” with a young local man. As we came close to the location of the restaurant, a wonderful smell filled the air, and as we walked around the corner to the street of the restaurant a gathering of Nicas, all surrounded by smoke, appeared before my eyes. They were gathering around a big grill “asado”, which was placed on the sidewalk of the street. Five or more women were busy cooking and selling the food. I was the only foreigner there. He showed me inside, where we placed ourselves in some plastic chairs next to a plastic table. A waiter asked for our order, and my friend mentioned a couple of dishes from the asido he thought I would like: galle pinto (rice and beans), queso (cheese), maduro (sweet, whole, and grilled plantain) and pollo (chicken). He ordered cerdo (pork), tajadas (plantain chips) and gallo pinto. Both dishes arrived shortly after with cabbage and tortillas. The plates were stuffed (I got a whole chicken!), and my friend told me Nicas like to eat a lot – that is those that can afford food. It is the best food I have tasted in León so far! But at the same time it is a bit strange to be this stuffed in a country where people are starving. My friend told me people keeps arriving to the fritanga all night, and most of them stand on the street because that is tradition. A lot of people bought the food to go. I got to bring home my leftovers. This day I also learn that it is common here to take turns paying the bill. I wanted to split, but my friend told me he would pay, because he was the one who invited me to eat. It was a funny little culture class since he found it natural to pay, and I found it natural to split the bill – we both insisted, but eventually he won saying “here we take turns”.

Other Nica dishes:
-el indio viejo: it can be a thick stock (which I like the most) or a soup.
– maduro: sweet fried/grilled plantain. Some are caramelized
-Tostones: fried patties of platano
-El Vigorón: meat with yucca/cassava (tastes like potatoes) and cabbage (hvidkål) and sauce
-Tamale: a boiled corn dough wraped in banana leaves. It does not taste of much. It can be eaten with cheese at a snack or as part of a meal. At the marked I payed 2 cordobas for one with cheese (50 øre).
– Chayote: green fruit which looks like a big apple. After taking a bite my lips became slightly numb, so I asked my host about the fruit. It turns out it has to be boiled in salted water like potatoes (raw it is a bit poisonous).
-Chocolate milk with ice from a plastic bag with a straw (10 cordobas en el mercado)

– chicha de maiz: a pink mass you need to mix with water and sugar.

– cebada: similar to chicha – pink as well, but made of barley instead of corn

– posol con leche y canela: tastes like milk blended with oats

– fresco con cereza y leche (10 cordobas en el Mercado)
– popsicles with coconut: YUM! (5 cordobas)
– Cuajada “letche molido”: looks like a small white sausage. Tastes like blue cheese (2 cordobas)
– Atol: pudding-caramel-like (not a favorite)

– Arroz con leche con dulce de leche: very sweet and pudding-like (10 cordobas)

– nacatamal: mais mass with vegestables and pork ribs. it taste nice, except from the chunks of fat

The market
The women at the marked are very friendly. They kindly explain to me what the food is called, what it tastes like and how to use it. Today was my second time to a particular market close to my room. An old woman was sitting on a chair next to a little table with plastic plates and plastic cups filled with a white mass topped with cinnamon. She was sitting exactly as she did the last time I went to the market, and she instantly recognized me (I have not yet met other foreigners there). Last time I went I promised her I would taste her dish next time – now there was no way back. “Atole” she told me, and explained that today’s treat is different than the “dulce arroz” she had the other day – however, they looked alike. She asked me what I thought about it, and I told her “muy dulce, pero rico”. However, it is a bit to sweet to be eating every day according to my taste. She seemed so happy. She told me she had made it herself and that she lived in the house she was sitting in (it seems strange however, that she should be living in the middle of the market). Later on I talked to some other women as well. They were selling homemade tortillas and cheese. I have discovered that the market is a great place to talk to the local women.

tortilla

tortilla
maduro y jugado

maduro y jugado

nacatamal nacatamal

nacatamal

_______________________

Reference

Appadurai, Arjun

1981 Gastro-Politics in Hindu South Asia. American Ethnologist 8(3):494.

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