Where’s our Pride, North America?

It was on a sweltering summer night in 2006 that my husband and I found ourselves in a little neighbourhood diner in Madrid. It was called Las Delicias del Jamon, suitably named given that there were Iberian hams hanging from just about every inch of the place. Those that weren’t curing were being thinly sliced and plated for appreciative customers like us.

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Photo from restaurant’s website.

Joe was/is mad for Spanish ham, and devised a plan to bring some home with him. He approached the restaurant owner about how to package it up, and what ensued was about an hour of rapid and lively discussion involving every patron in the place. Everyone had an opinion about how best to wrap this precious product so it would survive the flight to Canada.

What struck me then, and continues to impress me each time I return to Spain, is how much pride the Spanish take in their food.

During our last trip to Spain in March, we sought out – as we tend to do wherever we go – what we call ‘grandmothers’ cooking.’ It’s simple, usually inexpensive, but so, so good! And the people running these humble eateries are almost without exception the sweetest souls you can imagine.

Case in point – Sisco and Dolors, who run Can Vilaro in Barcelona with several of their children. Sisco inherited the restaurant from his parents, and he serves the same recipes they did. Pigs’ feet, tripe, breaded goats’ brains, and pork head with trotters and chick peas are all staples on the menu. This isn’t typical tourist fair of course, so when we returned for the second day in a row we were treated almost like family. Sisco beamed when we told him how much we liked his food and tawny house wine. There’s that pride again.

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Sisco and one of his daughters.
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First course: sardines on toast
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Second course: lambs’ brains

It’s not just in the restaurants that you see the care and attention given to all things edible. Food is displayed and handled in the markets as if it is more precious than any Crown Jewels (which it is in my mind).

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The egg lady. Who in North America would take the time to carefully display eggs this way?

In Galicia, there’s a whole festival devoted to celebrating the eel, including a community feast where we were served eel prepared just about every way you can imagine.

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Eel are dried on racks, just as First Nations people here in Yukon dry salmon.
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Plates of eel at the community feast in Muxia.

North America, why do we settle? Where is our pride in raising/growing, preparing, and savouring the foodstuff that sustains us? Have we forgotten what good food tastes like? How is it that processed and fast foods are ok with us? We can do better. Please raise a glass with me to grandmothers’ cooking and to making food sacred again!

 

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