On Poetry and Culture Shock

Culture-shocking food 1

It was about time I talked about the most important source of culture shock: foreign food.

I adapt easily, although I have a major limitation: I only eat animal products (dairy, eggs, meat) if they are organic. Not because I’m a health freak or a hippie or anything, it’s just that I have heard enough horror stories about the American meat industry. I like my milk and my meat without antibiotics, hormones and not from sick animals if possible, thank you very much.

Still, there are lots of new things to surprise me. These are some the best discoveries I have made here:

-Peanut butter. Americans do something weird: they take something perfectly delicious, like 99% peanut butter, and they mix it with salt, loads of sugar, and vegetable oils (up to 40% oil). The commercial stuff is yucky, truly disgusting. The “natural” one is addictive. I have culture-shocked Americans because I’ve invented the peanut-butter-and-tahini sandwich. Yummy. I will miss this one a lot in Spain.

-Almond butter: I had tasted almond cream, heavily sugared, delicious: it has the texture of nut butters and the flavour of marzipan. Almond butter has nothing to do with it, and I haven’t made up my mind about which one I prefer.

-Cookies are a failure. Someone tried to make cookies with cake dough and felt too guilty to throw away the result. Too greasy for cake and too soft for cookies. BUT: Smarties cookies are a great invention! Look! It’s a cookie with Smarties in it! It’s the funniest-looking food in the world! The problem is that Smarties is the British word for those multicoloured chocolate rounds and when I ask for the cookies at a counter, I never remember the American word for them. Actually, I prefer oatmeal-and-raisin cookies, but they’re less culture-shocking. And most important: shut up and don’t remind me that cookies contain non-organic dairy. I don’t need to know.

-Carrot cake. American carrot cake is the real thing, flour, oil, eggs, grated carrots, sugar, etc. and then you bake a proper cake. Spanish carrot cake is a layering of lightly boiled, grated carrots with readymade, white sponge cake. It’s too sweet. The American one is somehow more than the sum of its parts.

-Kale!! Oh! If we had had this weird sort of crunchy spinach when I was a child my mother would have saved herself a lot of lunch arguments over soggy greens.

-Portobello mushrooms: Oh! oh! oh! I could eat mushrooms every day for the rest of my life and be happy. Portobellos are huge, flat, dark brown mushrooms. Big as a hand. If you are vegetarian you can grill them, put them in a burger roll and pretend they’re a burger (beats veggie burgers any day). You can also stuff them with any bits and pieces. Some supermarkets sell them sliced, but I don’t get it: the whole point of Portobellos is that they are an edible plate!

-Garam Masala spices: OK, this is not American at all, it’s an Indian spice mix like curry, and it contains cardamom, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and a handful other things. It is a bit like curry’s quiet brother, without the turmeric (that is the yellow stuff) and with cinnamon. It sounds sweet, but isn’t really. It makes vegan white bean stew seem like something.

-Lavender flowers: cooking with flowers is weird and cool. They sell these with the spices. It goes gorgeous with tea (mint and lavender tea, mmhhh…. excuse me while I go get the teapot). A vegan bakery puts them on top of their carrot cake. There is lavender chocolate bars too, and they don’t taste like lavender at all. My friend Susan makes lavender truffles, chocolate for grownups.

Everyone thinks there’s no place like home and no kitchen like mama’s. Spaniards abroad complain as much as everyone else about the absence of their favourite dishes. I adapt easily. Sometimes I miss fish, and going out for tapas with friends, the ritual as well as the food. But that’s all.

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