Friday, August 12, 2011

Food: Culture and a Source

Dan Waters is a snarky 22 year old queer biracial wonderment who is part White, Portuguese, and Native American (Wampanoag-Kiowa). He currently lives in Massachusetts, and plans to become a Lawyer. That is, if he can survive Algonquin language classes and polyamorous dating right now! He also identifies as Two Spirit, and prefers male pronouns, but cherishes his female body that he was given graciously by the Creator. He blogs at Identity Exposure.

Perhaps I am spending too much time with my new girlfriend Kit talking about food, or because of the Ramen Every Night budget I’ve been running on, but I felt the need to talk about food. Kit, a Vietnamese immigrant, has promised me an Asian feast when I visit. In turn, I have told her that my Vavo will make her kale soupas and bacalhau (codfish balls) and whatnot. In our mixed-race, mixed-ethnic relationship, I was highly aware of how easy it was to talk about food and possibly eat food with Kit. In fact, I think it’s a first for both of us since we mostly dated white people.

Here’s a little secret: I eat with my hands. A lot. I am used to big portions, and majority starches/carbs. That’s just what you ate in a Portuguese household. Before I learned to hold a fork, I had a bread roll in one hand and pieces of potato or linguica in the other. Feeding other people wasn’t bad either; I had to help feed kids and elderly individuals before I even hit second grade. I was taught to cook from a young age because I was often in the kitchen with them as I was being taken care of. Kit also admits to eating a lot, and has boasted the ability to eat jalapeno peppers straight from the jar.

Admittedly, both of us have gotten stares, comments, and other things from mostly white individuals about our food. I was admittedly shy to invite friends over the house because our house would “smell weird” because Vavo was making kale soupas, or some other pungent Portuguese food. The smell of fish never bothered me, but I could see the faces on people who walk past our house. I also knew that there were two different ways of eating; it was rude to not use a fork and knife to cut your food. Eating fruit with your fingers was rude. Burping was rude. Of course, I was also picked on because I had reduced lunch and each day the teacher would openly announce when it was time to collect our money at the start of class.

I actually chose the torment of being picked on for being poor, over picked on for being mixed and Portuguese. The first time I brought food from home in a lunch bag, I was quickly dissuaded from bringing it again. The teachers had apparently complained about the smell of my linguica and potatoes with kale, and thought I was being fed undercooked or contaminated food. The whole big hullabaloo made me self-conscious, especially when the issue of “was I being abused at home” came up. It brought a lot of unnecessary problems and Parent-Teacher meetings. It was easier to just eat the bland chicken sandwiches they had at the cafeteria.

Because food was scarce sometimes growing up, I was used to the giant-feast like dinner that would take place and leftovers were used for tomorrow and the next day. Vavo always made food to last for a week, and I learned the value of food because of the stories of famine, drought, and earthquakes that would affect the farm my mother grew up on, and that typically you would eat three days out of the week. Throwing out food is almost sacrilege to me, and I don’t quite understand the mentality of it. Even at soup kitchens, once the quota was filled the food would be tossed out instead of transferred to a different soup kitchen that may not have filled their quota. I once suggested we do a free raffle so that maybe a family in need could get the leftovers. That idea was squashed. Throwing out food was okay. Excess was okay. I should be okay with it, I was told, because portions on Portuguese plates were so huge. Well, that is partially true. They were so huge because it was expected to last you the majority of the day, not because of excess. The approach of food from culture to culture is a vastly larger culture shock to me than say, traditional clothing or body modifications worn.

I actually have never eaten a Portuguese meal with any person I was dating. Admittedly, it was from being self-conscious and worried they would not like it, that they would throw up, or complain about it. I didn’t want to have to explain why we put a sunny-side up egg on top of steaks, or why we have French fries and potatoes on one plate, or why the rice was yellow. However, finally dating someone who is mixed as well, I have gotten a lot less self-conscious about my food. In fact, I showed a menu to Kit from a restaurant that had the gates to the city my mother grew up in as their logo. She had said that the sea food section looked absolutely delicious, and in her words, “All of this. In my mouth. Now.”

The following recipe is from epicurious,  and is the closest to my own Vavo's recipe (which I promised I'd never share, under threat of being hit with a spoon).

Feeds 2 people


12 - 14 shrimp (med/lrg)
1 medium onion chopped fine
1.5 tbsp parsley
1 packet "sazon goya con azafran"
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup white wine or beer
1 to 1-1/2 cups white rice
In a small mixing bowl add garlic, sazon goya, crushed
red pepper, salt and pepper. mix gently.

Add 1.5 tbsp butter and olive oil to pan with onion
and cook until soft, 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Add contents of
mixing bowl, stir, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add wine/beer, bring to boil
and reduce for 2 minutes over medium high heat. Add shrimp, parsley and
rest of butter. Cook over medium heat until shrimp are done and serve
over rice. Super easy and quick.

Dan's Note: Serve with potatoes or french fries, typically the long un-crinkled french fries. I often substitute white rice for yellow rice, of "Goya" brand.