Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A lament from the land of limited choices

Something I like - the thin slices of deep-fried green bananas  known as tajaditas
Honduras has its charms, but food isn't one of them. I've never been more appreciative of the variety of flavours that immigrants have brought to Canada than during these four months of living in what's essentially a culinary monoculture.
A true foodie would go mad here, I think. I'm a completely ordinary eater who tends to view food as fuel, but the sameness of the diet even makes me a little crazy.I'm sure you could track down a decent deli and a little more exotic fare in one of the big cities here, as long as you didn't mind giving up personal security in exchange. But in a country with so few immigrants to liven up the national palate, even the major centres are missing those marvelous food choices that are staples in the smallest of towns in Canada.
Good Chinese food, for instance. Gyros and falafels. Korean barbecue. A cheesy, spicy lasagne. Sushi. A bento box for lunch. An olive bar in your local supermarket. A thousand varieties of cheeses,  a hundred different types of breads and buns. Cookies, cakes, tarts, pies, neopolitans, baklava, cream puffs.  My mouth is watering just writing this.
Here in Copan, there's a Chinese restaurant but it serves only "chap suey," which in fact looks more like some type of very dark chow mein with way more vegetables than is the norm. I suspect that the Honduran owners have a limited knowledge of actual Chinese food.
There's a pizza place and a deep-fried chicken takeout that I completely rely on to pull me out of a food funk, and a nice little cafe down the road that makes crispy tacos and baleadas (but only crispy tacos and baleadas). Virtually all the other restaurants serve variations on the Honduran tipico meal: Beans, tortillas, a little rice, a splotch of cream and maybe some kind of meat cooked on a grill.
There are street vendors cooking every Friday and Saturday night, but they too stick close to the tipico. The breads and baked goods are generally tasteless, dry and lardy, with the exception of a few cakes you can buy by the slice at a couple of the tourist-style coffee shops.
Of course, nothing's stopping us from cooking more exotically at home. Nothing except the lack of ingredients, that is, and the heat that lasts long into the night. Life in a tropical country is teaching me that a lot of the foods I craved in Canada must have been because I was cold all the time. And let me tell you, anything that involves turning on the oven just isn't going to happen.
I consider myself  an enthusiastic carnivore, but you just don't feel like tucking into a steak when it's 34 degrees outside. It's not like there's a decent meat shop in town anyway, let alone one of those block-long refrigerated displays I'd grown so accustomed to in Victoria, with every possible cut and variety beckoning to you from their cheerful styrofoam trays. I've never been much of a salad eater, but now it's almost all we eat.
On that front, Honduras shines. The fruits and vegetables here are incredible. If you've ever passed through the Okanagan during a time when the fruit was ripe and ready for eating, or stuffed yourself on Saanich Peninsula strawberries during those exquisite three or four weeks when they're in season, you'll be familiar with the experience of eating fruit and vegetables in season that have been grown right in the 'hood. There's nothing like it.
The mangos are on right now here. Steps from my house, a giant truck loaded with mangos is parked in the street selling them three for $1. Before that it was watermelon and canteloupe, sweeter than any melons I'd ever tasted. The bananas come in five or six different varieties. Sometime in October the oranges, mandarins and grapefruit are going to come on.
The Roma tomatoes are exquisite. The cucumbers are crisp and sweet. The avocados are so creamy and delicious that they almost make up for the lack of fat in the rest of this new diet of ours. We're coming back to Victoria for a week in June and I already have a list of foods that I plan on consuming while there, but I know I won't find any comparable fruits and vegetables in a land that relies so heavily on imports.
I hope I don't come across as a whiner. I've been reading the blogs of some of my Cuso International counterparts in Mozambique and Cameroon, and their diets of fufu and little else make me feel like I'm living in Jamie Oliver's kitchen. I've had fufu - a kind of a dough made from starchy vegetables like cassava and plantains. It was interesting, but once was enough.
I guess what I'm really saying is that while there are many reasons for appreciating immigrants, I currently have a heightened sense of gratitude for the food they bring with them to their new countries. People in Honduras ask me what the tipico food is in Canada, and I feel a surge of nationalistic pride in being able to tell them that we don't have such a thing.
The next time you're eating any of a thousand dishes that make up the "typical" Canadian diet, spare a kind thought for the immigrant who first introduced it and helped make our country such a culinary pleasure. And have a shawarma for me, would you?


RosettaInMoz said...

LMAO I love this one Jody but I love all your writings BUT I feel you Sista in this one writing about food! I miss Canada being a vegetarian there walking around purchasing gluten free pancakes and my rice milk...boohoo. I almost salivated when someone said they had salmon and cream cheese in South Africa I forgotten what an avocado was until I saw it on a menu in Nelspirt South Africa and celery remember that??? LOve love love

Janice said...

Great post and I really had to laugh at "have a sharwarma for me" as my husband is always suggesting he head up to Denman Street in Vancouver from our pied a terre here to get one for lunch. Just shows how spoiled we are with choices when a "groan".

Janice said...

Last line was meant to say, "Just shows how spoiled we are with choices when I "groan".