This one’s from the Maltese Ex-Pat.
“What’s the food like in America?” is a question I’ve gotten a number of times since moving here from Europe. The question reveals the gulf of mutual ignorance on either side of the ocean. Can one talk of “American” food like one can talk of Italian, French and Spanish food?
Enter the European stereotypisation of America; giant portions of burgers, steaks, hot dogs and chicken wings. An unflattering image of simple, fattening food. The polar opposite of the complex, naturally healthy gourmet food on every table in Europe.
But just like the actual Arctic and Antarctic poles, these areas are more alike than they are different. There’s no shortage of fast food in Europe, the same western tendencies away from traditional food and towards ready-meals, frozen food and junk are now well entrenched. In America as well as in Europe, a more recent reaction to this trend in the form of the organic and slow food movement is well underway.
I have a confession. I tend to romanticize. Especially fishermen and the sea. Once, in passing, my mother, an islander, told me “When you live by the sea, once you leave it, you always miss it.” Ever since then I have been in love with anything nautical. Selkies, sirens, even that Looking Glass song about Brandy leave me dreaming and longing for that hauntingly beautiful, dauntingly vast and tremendously frightening mare.
My mare is not usually the warm and inviting waves of the Mediterranean — that cradle of European civilization that bore Odysseus, the Phoenicians and so many other explorers upon their waves. My mare or “sjøen” or ”havet” is the cold harsh ocean of the North, an ocean that is not to be loved, but feared and fought against. So too the seas inhabitants are different. These are not the warm waters that invite soft tentacled octopi to traverse the shallow ocean shore, but rather the prickly frightening hard-shelled king crab.
Norwegian fisherman wearing the classic sydvest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sou%27wester)
When your heart and palate have spent the last 8 months dreaming of wild fennel browned by the bright sun poking out of porous rocks and rabbit stewed in wine for hours, how do you call up those memories when these images leave your life. What do you do when these scenes and flavors that had been painted so brightly and clearly recede into the background and become abstract? A relationship ends and suddenly what you knew about the food and its people becomes foggy. What would you do if you already had a plane ticket? Would you go? I couldn’t resist. The tastes of Malta were calling me and with or without the Maltese painter, I would discover them. So too I will now learn to paint the Mediterranean colors myself. I will delve into Malta, and who knows, maybe the act of conjuring these tastes will sharpen that faded picture.