A bit of fun before the final exams. La Escuela Oficial de Idiomas ran an informal cookery competition amongst all the extranjeros learning Spanish, and we all had to bring a dish representative of our own countries.
Quite tough to pick something representative of British cuisine – and something that I could make! I’m not a great cook, being a strong advocate of the idea that it’s important to support local bars and restaurants who do these things so much better than I ever can. Fortunately a good friend (and a great cook!) was over, she helped me whip up a dish of salted caramel and I put sliced apple and strawberries beside it for dipping. The harder challenge was to write something (in Spanish of course) about the dish and why it represents my country. Well, it doesn’t, of course! It’s a French dish, created by Henri Le Roux in the 1970s, using Breton sea salt. So not really English at all, but at least there was something to write about, and on the day, when we each had to introduce our dish in Spanish, I could explain its history and its current popularity in the UK – mostly thanks to “Masterchef”.
The table groaned with fabulous plates from around the world. There were dishes from Syria, Iran, Morocco, Italy, India, France, Russia, Turkey, Norway, Brazil, Palestine, Austria, Scotland, Finland, and Malaysia. A woman from Wimbledon brought strawberries and clotted cream, and a student from the US brought an ironic platter of rather delicious hamburgers.
It was a feast of “local” food, only lacking Spanish dishes. Everyone’s locality was represented, everything had been prepared with love and good memories of home, and everything was delicious. It was fascinating to think about how and why food has developed differently in different cultures, why tastes have evolved so differently. The salted caramel at first sounded too bizarre for people to want to try. The five Spanish school staff in particular seemed very wary. Then suddenly after a couple of people had cautiously tried dipping apple into the thick gooey caramel, word got round and a crowd gathered. Maria, the Spanish teacher, stole the recipe from under the plate. It’s a taste that hasn’t entered Spanish cuisine yet – I had asked several chefs, cooks, and ice-cream parlours for the name in Spanish but was met with blank expressions and questions of why would anyone add salt to caramel?
Back in Colmenar it was the romería and the village was full of horses, donkeys and oxen pulling carriages. A lunch of drinks and tapas with friends as the horses went by, was interrupted by a man wanting to sell his last box of nisperos. I gave in, and handed over the 2.50€ he wanted for probably 2-3 kilos of fruit. On spotting my “guiri” accent, he went back to his van and brought me a sack of lemons to buy. I refused, as my lemon tree is now fruiting well. He whipped out an ancient pocket-knife and quartered a lemon onto an empty tapas plate. Deep from a filthy pocket emerged a bulb of garlic, which he opened and skinned, and sliced onto the lemon. Then, from the other trouser pocket, came a plastic pouch of freshly-ground black pepper, which he proceeded to sprinkle all over the lemon. The final touch was some sea salt. He offered us the platter with a flourish.
We could not have been less tempted. What had started out as a delicious, juicy, beautiful lemon, had been desecrated with a ton of black pepper. Salted caramel I can do, very happily, but peppered salted garlicky lemon was a step too far. Fortunately one friend was made of sterner stuff, and under the fixed gaze of the nispero-salesman, she bravely picked the least-peppery chunk of lemon. She was about to put it in her mouth when he stopped her, pointing out that her slice lacked garlic. “Oh of course,” she said, “how silly of me!” and added a sliver of raw garlic to the mouthful while her boyfriend giggled unsupportively beside her. With only an imperceptible pause, in went the unappetising morsel. Her face set in a rictus grin. Her eyebrows disappeared under her fringe. Sweat appeared on her brow. Time stood still.
The nispero man offered me the plate. With a sideways glance at her now quivering lower lip, I dug underneath for a piece of lemon which may have missed the onslaught of salt and pepper, and wiped it surreptitiously on the plate. His hand went back into his pocket and he waved the bag of pepper at me. “No, no, it’s fine, thank you. No really. No!” I insisted. The lemon was sharp, fresh from the tree, but with the sweetness of lemons that mature fully in the Andalucían sunshine. Then unfortunately the pepper I had been unable to scrape off kicked in and my face screwed up. “You like it?” he asked. Not great at reading body-language, this guy. “It’s …. umm …. an interesting flavour,” I spluttered. “We generally like lemon without black pepper” I explained, pointlessly. “But the garlic is good, no?” he asked, pressing for the compliment we were struggling to give. “Yes,” I said, “the garlic is delicious”.
Happy enough with that, and with his 2.50€ for the nisperos, he finally went back to his 1960s pick-up, patted the scrawny dog that was gazing adoringly at him from the passenger seat, threw the truck into some inappropriate gear, and drove off into the campo.
© Tamara Essex 2015 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
A bunch of us were out one night for drinks and tapas in Málaga city centre. A good choice of tapas, included free with each drink. I’d tried some of the more recognisable tapas on a previous visit so decided to be a bit more adventurous. I liked the sound of “Rollo Frito Pollo”.
“Una pregunta, por favor” I said to the waitress. “Este Rollo Frito Pollo, que es?” She looked at me. “Pues, es un rollo,”. She paused. “Esta frito ….” She paused again, unsure as to how to continue. “…. y lleva pollo.”
Ah yes. And the moral of that is, in any language, don’t ask silly questions.