Category Archives: food

Luxury food

paella

I often ask my students, when teaching on the topic of culture, if, in their opinion, paella started originally as a dish of the poor or the rich. Having seen paella as one of the most expensive options on the menus of expensive restaurants, they usually say that paella must have been an invention for the table of the wealthy. After all, shrimp and clams, mandatory for paella, are deluxe ingredients.

But not when the dish was first created. Fish and seafood in general was cheap food, since it didn’t need land to be farmed. It grew free and plentiful, with just labor necessary to be harvested – and that was cheap. In fact, paella is based on the concept of “small pieces of different meats and veggies, combined with rice”, which in practice means “any kind of meat, mixed together in rice”:  the perfect way to use leftovers. In most cases, paella was the Spanish casserole in which leftovers from yesterday or from the master’s table were put together to make a hearty meal. Continue reading

Textual food criticism

306564541_5249a67f89There was time when each kitchen had the same, single authoritative cook book, placed in its center on a little lectern and consulted with respect. Or, alternatively, some people owned the handwritten recipes coming from their grandmothers, copied word by word with care, kept in a wooden box and transmitted faithfully to the next generation. The cookbook publishing business was dull and predictable and maybe it wasn’t really a business. Continue reading

What’s so wrong with Starbucks?

starbucksI know many people around here who are not happy with Starbucks. They like to criticize it while still patronizing it. Well, I think Starbucks is the wrong target for the socially, culturally and aesthetically sensitive crowd. I don’t find much wrong with Starbucks, actually I like it.

Some people say it is expensive, but there are so many other overpriced indulgences in the world that cost much more. Plus, a simple solo espresso at Starbucks is actually dirt cheap.

Others say what’s wrong is that it is a chain. They criticize the concept of chainness itself. Yes, but wrong as it is, Starbucks’s chainness introduces it in more places in the US without actually forcing the local residents to buy it. Continue reading

The Mexican experience, interpreted through food

Gin Fizz

Photo: Gin Fizz

In Mexican culture, you don’t just eat, you experience life through food. So, it is obligatory that you experience it communally, but if you don’t cook Mexican at home and you resort to restaurant ersatz, you need assistance to recreate the communality. Mexican restaurants in the USA are never just places to eat your vegetables and R&B (rice and beans, for those who wonder what role rhythm & blues has to play in a restaurant menu). They are your local Mexican agora where, besides the get-together, debate and exchange, you also get to eat. Quietly, Mexico is colonizing the USA under the guise of providing a safe space to enjoy chicken fajitas and mole, because the space thusly created in those restaurants is simply a recreation of Mexican space, with all the details: the colorful plazas, the sunlit streets, the noises and angles of city life itself. Continue reading