I seem to be experiencing some sort of food-related apathy surrounding our date nights. Last week we tried el Museo de Jamon - a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant in the Zona Colonial. The atmosphere was to die for - a perfect breeze blowing in from the sea, a glass of wine, a handful of small groups of people scattered about the tables (many of them smoking, a habit I usually find annoying, but discover myself getting nostalgic over when the atmosphere has a European flair). The food, however, was decidedly sub-par.
We shared a Caesar salad that was passable, but the lettuce had not been drained properly and the croutons were very obviously from a box (and not a good one). There weren't a lot of veg options - this actually worked out well for Jeremy. He ended up choosing the tortilla de España and a sopa de auyama (auyama in like Caribbean pumpkin). Both were exactly how you would expect them to be - satisfying and simple. My entrée, however, was a big disappointment. When I studied in Spain I loved bacalao (dried salted cod). The smell is overwhelming and enough to make you run the other way, but when I was in Spain it grew on me (like the smell of jamon hanging in a dank tavern) and I came to crave the way my host mother cooked it - simply re-hydrating it and serving it with a little olive oil alongside steamed veggies. Anyway, when I saw bacalao on the menu I was so excited. They sell it here - I have seen it in the supermarket and have considered trying to recreate my host mother's dish, but haven't yet. What I received at the Museo de Jamon was hope-dashing. The dish did have fish in it, but I find it very hard to believe it was bacalao. It was completely without flavor, overcooked and was smothered in a tomato sauce better left for lasagna. I ate a few bites and just couldn't stomach anymore.
I am afraid my apathy comes from this discovery that truly magnificent food, as of yet, doesn't seem to be finding me here. I feel like I frequently find myself encountering food that is good or okay, but nothing where I just know I will melt in my chair with satisfaction. Even truly good comfort food seems to be lacking. I remember when we lived in Japan there was nothing like okonomiyaki (especially Hiroshima-fu)- I never grew tired of it. It was my Japanese-heaven on a plate (or hot griddle). In Malaysia, we ate roti canai as if we would never see it again. I wonder when I will find my thing here that I cannot do without. And yet, I already wonder how my life will be different when I move on from here to find that fresh squeezed orange juice returns to being a luxury and pineapples, mangos and avocados are the most expensive items in the produce section.
Perhaps I am finding myself more in the land of culture shock and less in the land of food frustration - or more accurately, culture shock translating into food frustration. We have always been big restaurant eaters. Here we eat at home. It is saving money - that's good. And, since Vilma started, a new spark has entered our home cooking. I enjoy being in the kitchen with her - we laugh about spilling flour on the floor and I am certain she thinks I am the most dangerous knife wielding lunatic to ever chop an onion - and she cooks new things that get me thinking about other new things. Our oldest, who hates new food, finds this excruciating. He told me today, "Vilma is mean to me! She put that sauce on my corn-on-the-cob. I don’t like sauce!" But, at the same time, she has him eating mashed potatoes (he has lost his position as "last child on Earth who won't eat mashed potatoes") and plays hide-and-seek with him longer than anyone else has ever managed, so it can't be all bad.
But, the food. This Thursday will find us trekking out on another date night - starving (it's usually 9:00 PM before we get to the restaurant) and hopeful. Stay tuned.