We have officially entered what I call The Food Coma Season: that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when parties become a weekly occurrence and gorging turns into a national pastime. Add lamenting the inevitable extra poundage to the cycle too.
At any rate, I was talking to my hairdresser about our Thanksgiving menu when our conversation veered to quirky food preferences. We concluded that what might taste heavenly to one person can appear gross to another.
I, for one, love Spam. The Hubby finds this alarming. Then again, he thinks some of my eating habits peculiar. Like cleaning out the refrigerator by combining all the disparate leftovers into one meal. So tasty! So frugal, too.
I love Spam without frills or additions. I’ve loved it since I was a picky-eating, knobby-kneed kid. In fact, I trace my devotion to 1961, when my family arrived in this country and gratefully received food help from the U.S. government. This help included powdered eggs, processed cheese, and what we would forever call “Carne de Refugio.” Refugee meat.
My mother and grandmothers, like so many other new Cuban arrivals, learned to creatively use what, in essence, was similar to Spam.
Fast-forward six decades, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why my children recoil from trying it. How do you know you don’t like it if you won’t taste it, right? I’ve explained that Spam is a treat in other places. Think: Hawaii’s Spam musubi, United Kingdom’s Spam fritters, and Puerto Rico’s sandwich de mezcla. But that tactic hasn’t worked.
In the spirit of coming clean: I also like eating sardines out of a can. I don’t much care if they’re in olive oil or spring water, as long as I can scoop them onto saltine crackers. It’s my go-to comfort lunch. Sardines are good for you, too, packed with calcium, iron, and vitamins D and B12.
One of my other food faves is anchovies. I like anchovies on everything, but especially salads and pizza. Because they’re so salty, I indulge in small quantities. Nevertheless, I think the world in general doesn’t appreciate these teeny fish enough. Which is fine, since that means there’s more for me and other anchovy acolytes.
I learned to eat sardines and anchovies from my mother, who introduced us to what was once considered exotic gastronomy. (It would be decades before the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain acquainted us with the vastness of international cuisine.) In truth, my mother’s simple, hearty fare harked to the old country — Catalonia, Spain — home to both sides of my family.
As a kid, I ate oxtail and rabbit and, once, snails with my paternal grandfather. None of those called to my palate. However, my mom made one other dish that I loved, loved, loved.
Mother’s tripe dish is gone
She was the best at making tripe. As a consumer, there was an immeasurable sense of satisfaction in chewing, and chewing, and chewing, and then chewing that tripe some more until it was reduced to a swallow-ready paste. Sadly, I don’t have her recipe.
My late sister, a good cook in her own right, once managed to replicate the dish, but that effort has been lost, too. I, a terrible cook, haven’t even tried. The result? I haven’t enjoyed one of my weird but best-loved culinary favorites in years. A real pity.
Anyway, this is my long, convoluted way of urging you to take heed, particularly during The Food Coma Season, when you gather with family to prepare and eat so many beloved traditional dishes. If you treasure one, if you can’t imagine a holiday table without a certain appetizer or entree or dessert, make sure you jot down that recipe. Don’t wait until next year.
Your nostalgic taste buds will thank me.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.