Mark Bittman and Yucatan

26 Sep ’12

Mark Bittman in the last Sun­day Times, wrote an arti­cle about a lit­tle town right next to the one I worked in. And he wrote beau­ti­fully about the “three sis­ters,” corn, beans, and squash. He described the way that old and new rub together in the con­tem­po­rary life of a rural place. And he talked about Yucate­can food with such del­i­cate­ness and inter­est that I almost laughed out­loud as he painted pic­tures of exquis­itely form balls of masa. He was invited into another world for a day and his account is just that…a beau­ti­ful look at what that can feel like.

And for me I couldn’t help but think about the tastes of his expe­ri­ence, what hap­pens before, between, and after that lunch in a quaint vil­lage. I thought about the uncount­able meals that were laid out before me in people’s kitchen all through South­ern Mex­ico over the course of the year and half spent there. Each house had it’s own lan­guage of food. The habanero sal­sas spici­ness at each house were slightly dif­fer­ent, masa looked smelled and tasted totally dif­fer­ent from one house to the next. When my stu­dent and col­lab­o­ra­tor Leo told me that she wanted to look at how dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies ate in her town, I remem­ber her sur­prise at all the dif­fer­ent ways dishes were pre­pared and the lin­eage behind the tastes.

Some days being invited into a house where I knew food was being divided up care­fully to feed as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble I thought about how and why it feels nour­ish­ing to share with guests. I am not sure exactly, but in the ges­ture of being able to share food I could taste dig­nity, pride, and a chal­lenge to be met. For some­one like Mark Bittman where some­one is always try­ing to feed him a new taste, I can only imag­ine what a glimpse into a kitchen where ask­ing to be met is a chal­lenge rather than a request must feel like.