Growing up, my family rarely ate together. From the oldest to the youngest, we all had different schedules, we were all rarely home for an extended period of time together but also it just was something that was not common in our household. The few times I remember eating together was during special occasions or if we were celebrating a holiday at a cousin’s house. Unlike the way I was raised and different values we held, through the various places I have traveled to, eating together and cherishing family time is not only important but something that was a part of your daily routine. You had to eat with your family at least once a day. In Spain, taking a siesta was real and common. Shops and businesses would close down in the middle of the day so employees and owners could enjoy lunch with their families and rest. Living in Spain, I was constantly frustrated when I had to do some type of administrative work on my to-do list and I could not get it done because the post office, bank or restaurant was closed. The American, specifically the New Yorker in me was annoyed and bitterly complained that the reason the economy sucked right now (this was 2013 when 1 in 4 Spaniards were unemployed) was because businesses suffered when they closed in the middle of the day to go eat lunch. Exasperated with so few options I remember thinking, “This would not be OK in the United States” or, “ Shit, it’s 2pm in the afternoon and I can’t do ANYTHING because the city is shut down.” Living abroad, has taught me that it most certainly is never only about you, and it is imperative to adapt. Living in Brazil, I cannot help but compare some of my experiences in Spain to my current time here in Brazil. It’s the only other time in my life I lived away from home for an extensive period of time.
Brazilians love to eat. And they love to eat together. I have many friends who go home between their classes to eat with their families. I have other friends that spend the entire day cooking and eating with their families. I’ve been lucky to have several home-cooked meals, which is something I have muito saudades for. (check out my last blog post if you have no idea what this means.) My host professor in her beautiful home with several other university professors prepared the first home cooked meal that I was able to enjoy. It was a night of fascinating discourse, delicious food, yummy wine and relaxation.
One of my other friends João invited Andrea and I to enjoy a traditional Brazilian lunch with his family. I had plans after the lunch to meet with a research group but I was too engrossed in the food, the engaging conversation, and company and missed the meeting! I lost track of time and felt terrible and when I told the other members of the group, they were all completely understanding and made jokes and laughed at me because this is all something they have experienced before. You can’t just leave a Brazilian lunch when you are consistently offered food…it’s a huge faux pas. Leaving early is essentially an insult to the host (and growing up in a Caribbean family and having Caribbean friends, I knew that you can’t just leave. Needless to say, they were all super understanding. João’s family is from the countryside and it was awesome enjoying a meal from the interior. One of the highlights from that lunch was when João’s father dropped some wisdom on me. Enjoying a cafezinho after lunch is an important custom that is all over Brazil. Restaurants will offer complementary coffee in little plastic cups that remind me of shot glasses after meals and you can’t help but indulge. Anyway, his father brought out coffee and asked me how I take my coffee. “Black, one sugar.” He looked at me and exclaimed, “sugar!” I have something way better for you. He brought out fresh honey from a farm he visits weekly. He told me a teaspoon of honey would do the trick. I was hesitant but as soon as I had the first sip, I immediately knew I was never going back. Why haven’t I ever thought of this??! It makes sense! I have honey in my tea, I use honey in my smoothies, I use honey in my granola, I use honey as an all around sweetener, I don’t know why it has never occurred to me to use it in coffee! He looked at me with a knowing smile and said no words.
I have another friend, Dannia, who invites me almost every week to eat with her, her sister’s family or her neighbors. It’s always an assortment of deliciousness. A lunch date at her house turned into an afternoon of conversation, Sex and the City and then dinner! I was planning on staying for dinner but I couldn’t just leave. (See above.) Dannia’s has not only opened her home but her family to me and it’s great. Her fiancée brought me back a super cool coffee maker from Italy after I made a fleeting comment about her practical and modern coffee maker. What makes our relationship even better is that our conversations go back and forth between English and Portuguese because we are both trying to learn each other’s language.
Food makes the world go around. It brings people together, ideas and cultures are shared and people are just all around happy. Lovin my friends here in Brazil who definitely know the way to my heart (is food.)