A familiar proverb tells us that ‘we are what we eat.’ Until I moved to United States I didn’t realize how important food was and how the preparation and sharing of food is filled with traditions and values that connect me to my family, my culture and to my roots.
When I was growing up my parents would not let me leave the table after a meal until everyone was done, I had asked permission to get up and I had said buen provecho. Even when leaving a restaurant if you passed by people still eating in their tables you had to say buen provecho. Literally it means “good benefit” but it’s real meaning would be something more like: “may you have and enjoyable meal and may the food benefit you”. I don’t know when I realized that there is no translation for buen provecho in English, there are equivalents in other languages like “Bon Apetit” or “Guten Apetit” but there is really nothing similar you can say in English. Every time I leave a restaurant I find myself starting to say it and then realize no one would understand it so I have to hold myself back from wishing everyone still eating, without it mattering if they are complete strangers, that the food may be of benefit to them. It’s amazing how I miss little things like that, but the truth is that what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and the traditions and etiquette surrounding meal times is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.
In my life food is also strongly tied to traditions and to culture. I can not think of El Día de los Muertos without craving Fiambre and on Christmas I have to have my Ponche de Frutas and my tamales. I don’t care if it’s still in the 80′s here in Florida, my ponche is as much a part of my holiday as the Christmas tree.
When I remember my family or think about my country, one of the first things that come to mind is food: tamales, tortillas, Pepian, champurradas, buñuelos and torrejas. Food is not only tied to traditions but also to memories, to family, to culture and to your own identity.
Now that I am a mother I find that preparing food with my daughter is one of my favorite things. I love that I can spend that time with her and mostly I enjoy sharing with her memories and traditions that are important to me through food. I am hopeful that food will help me keep my Latino culture alive in my children.
Do you find that food is an important part of your family’s traditions?