Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Salone del Gusto 2010

I spent this weekend in Turin, Italy, attending the Salone del Gusto.  This is an event put on by Slow Food International which invites food producers from all over Italy and other parts of the world to share their "good,clean, and fair" products.  These artisans range from cheesemakers, butchers, olive oil producers etc...In other words, it was a food convention on steroids.  You are immediately overwhelmed by all the booths and the infinitesimal amount of free samples.  But before I divulge more details, I should mention that this was the first time I have truly traveled by myself.  In the past, two key things have been in place: 1. I spoke the language and 2. I would be meeting others at my destination.  This time I was going all on my own with no knowledge of Italian extending beyond chao (which is used for hello and goodbye), pasta, and pizza.  When I arrived to the airport, I was quite nervous.  The pit in my stomach persisted until I was safely on a bus in Italy heading towards the convention. Needless to say, I arrived safe and sound without a hitch.
The view of the Alps from my window

Next to the Lingotto convention center, is Slow Food's grocery store, EATALY.  As if the convention wasn't overwhelming enough, this store has any Italian product you could possibly want.  Dare I say that it is better than Whole Foods.  All the foods were fresh and of the utmost quality.  I mean what other grocery store sells swordfish with its sword still attached.  I've never seen it.
Every department has its own eatery.  For example, in the pasta section you could buy about 100 different kinds of pasta and eat it too.  I splurged and got linguine with white truffle and butter.  Utterly indulgent and delicious.  Hey, you cannot visit the Piedmont region during truffle season and not try it.  A lot of the items offered in the store were also available at the Salone del Gusto.
This is just one section, there are another 4 rows just like it

White truffle 220.00 Euros per 100 Kilos

My most memorable meal
After the shock of the amazingness of this store and the Salone del Gusto wore off, Mrs. Commonsense came to visit and first told me not to buy anything because I had no way to bring it back to Madrid.  Second, she made me think of the relationship between this store, Slow Food, and the public.  I mean is Slow Food only about promoting sustainability of foodstuffs or is it also about the accessibility of the products as well.  This is the controversy we see in the U.S. regarding Whole Foods.  Is it enough to offer quality products at a relatively high price or should we (slow fooders) be working towards food justice, availability, and affordability as well?  Because even though the sauces, cheeses, and prosciutto were excellent, would the average person "cough up the dough" and buy it on a regular basis?  I don't know and local Italians seemed to resent the enterprise because of this conflict.  It was a discourse I definitely pondered and discussed with others throughout my trip.  I haven't come to a completely satisfying conclusion however I will say that Slow Food does have good intentions and maybe as it becomes larger, it will be able to offer better pricing.  A major highlight of my trip was meeting Alice Waters again.  I was only able to speak to her for a minute but it was nice to find that needle in the haystack of people.  It is funny because I don't recognize celebrities on Hollywood Blvd. but I can spot her in a crowd. I loved every minute of my visit, and enjoyed being surrounded by people who cared about food as much as I do.  Whether it was food culture preservation, continuing a family tradition or starting one, or just being proud of your local product, it was very inspiring.  I found this quote which I think sums up my experience in Italy:  "No one who cooks, cooks alone.  Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers" (Laurie Colwin).  I think the Salone del Gusto showed me that food's history is never ending, it has a complicated past and continues to expand into the present and is a subject of interest for the future.

Me and the Slow Food snail

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

El Camino de Santiago: Camp for Grown-Ups

I realize that this blog is dedicated to my love of food but I feel compelled to share my experience on the Camino de Santiago.  For those of you who don't know, this is a pilgrimage that has traditionally started  from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.  The route is approximately 820km and takes a little over 30 days if you are walking.  However, now there are routes all over Europe that take you to Santiago de Compostela.  Now keep in mind that you can do this on a bike or horseback.  I was not that ambitious nor did I have the time so I did 115km from Sarria, Spain.  To receive the Compostela (certificate of completion), you must walk at least 100km, so it is a popular starting point for most Spaniards.  There is a very long history of this pilgrimage but I won't go into here, you can research it yourself on wikipedia.  Doing the Camino was a big deal for me because it was a physically as well as a mentally taxing.  For those of you who know me personally, I don't think you would classify me as "active" or "outdoorsy" and would view this endeavor as outside my character.  Then again, you would also know that I appreciate a challenge. Maybe I wouldn't of done it but because I met a fellow Fulbrighter Emily who wanted to go, plans were set.  We arrived in Sarria on October 8th at about 7:30 in the morning, after being on a bus for the past 8 hours.  It was dark and we had no idea where we were going.  After having a cup of coffee, we see a sign leading us in the direction of the Camino.

You will sometimes see a clear sign showing you the path but more commonly, you will see yellow arrows pointing the way. Instead of the following the yellow brick road, you follow the yellow arrows. They are the most handy guide you are going to have.
Know what you are getting yourself into.  Or maybe in my case, better that I didn't.  Yes, its just walking but you are not walking on a nicely paved flat road, you are walking through forests, up and down mountain sides and through small farm towns.  A paved road is considered a blessing after 20 km of rocky hillsides.  You are mostly by yourself during the Camino.   I went with Emily but we spent a lot of time walking in silence as you will see many other pilgrims doing.  You spend time listening to the sound of the ground crunching beneath your feet, the roosters crowing in the morning, the wind rustling the trees and the rhythmic sound of your walking stick as you take each new step.  The Camino is very much an individual experience.  Everyone has their own Camino, there own reasons for doing it, religious or otherwise.  You will have plenty of time to think.  Think about yourself, your family and friends, your problems, your beliefs, your future or sometimes of nothing.  There were many times where I just chanted 1,2,3,4 to myself  just so I could get through the steep hill I was currently climbing.  I found that my emotions were ever changing.  Some mornings I woke up with enthusiasm and was ready to walk, and other days I cursed myself for taking on the Camino.  As my friend Janel says "if there is something going on within you, it will come out on the Camino if you let it."  You will be sore and your body will definitely hurt all over.  Places hurt that I didn't even know existed.  Where the pain started in the beginning of the day, would inevitably move to a different part of my body by the end.   However, I got up every morning and continued on despite the discomfort, and for that I am proud.
I know you haven't asked this question but it's bound to come at some point, "what was my favorite part about the Camino?"  I would have to respond by saying, the scenery.  Galicia is absolutely stunning.  Every town was picture perfect in its own way.  Sometimes I would have to remind myself to stop looking at my feet and take in the views around me.  I love the city but I have to admit that it was wonderful to get away from the craziness that is Madrid and live a simple life.  All I did was walk, eat, drink, and sleep for 5 days.  My life was reduced to a backpack and basic life sustaining activities, it was great!

On October 11th, Emily and I walked 40km in one day to be able to arrive in Santiago that night.  If I am completely honest, Santiago de Compostela was my least favorite part of the Camino.  After experiencing the peaceful Camino, it is hard to be thrown back into the bustling city. I felt accomplished when I first stepped within the city limits but it quickly evaporated when I had to fight my way through crowds to reach the cathedral.  We received the Compostela but, to me its not about the certificate but rather the journey to get there, that to me is what the Camino is all about.  It's amazing what happens when you put yourself outside your comfort zone; soon enough you begin to change before your very eyes.  I was told that people saw the "Camino growing on me."   I won't say that the Camino de Santiago changed my life forever but I will say that I came home with a new set of lenses, camino lenses, for which to view Madrid and my experience here.  And that is good enough for now.  Perhaps in the future I will consider doing the whole thing.
On the Camino, people signed their names and made dedications on signs, under bridges, on rocks, really just about any surface that they could write on.  I did not come equipped with a sharpie or spray paint so I was not able to add to the graffiti.  I will make my dedication here.  I dedicate my Camino first and foremost to myself.  I set a goal and accomplished it, no matter the circumstances.  I dedicate my Camino to my family for helping to shape me into the person I am today.  I am not sure I could have taken on the Camino without the sturdy foundation that you have provided me.  I dedicate my Camino to my fiance, for never doubting me and always knowing that I can do anything, even when I don't.  Finally, I dedicate my Camino to all the pilgrims who have done the Camino de Santiago, we are one hell of a bunch.  We are of all ages, of all nationalities and of all walks of life who take on this task despite the difficulties we face along the way.  To all of you who plan to do the Camino in the future, I say  Buen Camino!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Beer, Chips and Chorizo: A simple meal with complex conversation

      "What would your magnum opus be and how would it inspire people?" asks Janel.  Now this is a heavy question, how would my life's work be a window for people to change and experience life differently?   Honestly I am not sure at this point what my magnum opus will be, I am so young with so many dreams.  I guess you won't know what it is until the end of your days but even then I presume you will still be building on it.  Needless to say I decided to root my answer in what is important to me now and will continue to be in the future.  I said I would like for people to always remember how important family relationships are.  So many times I hear "I haven't talked to my brother for 30 years" or "my mom and I hate eachother, we just don't get along" and it just kills me that people have reached that point, that realization that it's just not worth it.  I know what I am proposing is not easy and at times feels like a hopeless endeavor, but there is usually light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes that light takes longer to grow and shine but it does exist.  I know from experience.
        This conversation resonated with me and prompted me to ponder other intimate facets of myself.  To think about this blog and the way I portray myself to my audience.  I realized that it's pretty dry and without much real emotion.  I write about the food but in such a general way that I don't even leave hungry for what I have just spent 2 hours explaining.  Sitting in the bar, I understood that in academia or as an academic writer, you are trained to take ourselves out of whatever we are writing about.  As such, the writing becomes about the subject of study.  Now all of the sudden I am expected to put myself forth and let my personality shine through.  Granted I have purposely put myself in this position but I made this blog to expand myself and share my passion with others.  I need to include those things that are deep within me, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my opinions, and through that expression, I believe that the great passion within me will explode onto the page.  I am grateful to have friends here that ask probing questions that put me outside of my comfort zone and make me take a hard look at who I am in this space.  I am a women in Spain, I am a Brazilian-American in Spain, I am a Fulbright Grantee in Spain, I am an anthropologist in Spain, I am a foodie in Spain.  All of these parts of myself are cogs in a large bodily clock constantly working together to shape my experience in Spain and in turn how I translate those experiences onto the page.  This is an honest post about an honest realization.