One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was on the island of Sicily, off the southern coast of Italy. My time working at a local preschool the summer before my senior year of college was coming to an end, and one of the teachers invited me to her home to celebrate.
Her husband did the cooking. We dined on from-scratch pasta and fresh-caught seafood and dark chocolate cake, laughter filling the cool, coastal night air. There were tears as we said goodbye, both my stomach and heart filled to the brim.
Food memories are powerful, aren’t they? In this week’s section of Mastering the Art of French Eating, Ann Mah said of her childhood visit to France, “I guarded those food memories, taking them out from time to time to give them a polish. They seemed to represent another existence, one of tradition, of history, of continuity, rooted in a small sliver of the world.”
As Mah went through the different dishes highlighted in chapters four through six, she drew us into her experiences of cooking and savoring, learning and exploring. I couldn’t stop thinking about the vacation that she and her husband took while he was home on leave, the community experience of making soupe au pistou and eating it all together.
I enjoy cooking and do so for myself often since I live alone. But there’s something really beautiful about sharing a meal with someone, isn’t there? It doesn’t seem to matter much if it’s a simple meal of soup and salad or a seven-course feast, but the laughter and conversation shared over food is powerful.
There were some interesting cultural tidbits I picked up in this section! Other than my brief jaunt through Paris, I don’t know a lot about French culture. The first lesson was how French people eat lunch. In my working days before going to the field I wasn’t always good at taking a lunch break. It was easier to grab something quick and eat at my desk (also what my introvert personality preferred!).
But Mah found through her work at the American Library that lunch at one’s desk isn’t the way to go. She said in chapter four, “According to recent studies, 60 percent of French people enjoy their daily midday meal in a restaurant. Compare this with almost 60 percent of Americans, who eat at their desks while continuing to work.”
How does the culture you are living in or come from handle the midday meal? What did you think of Mah’s experiences around lunch in France?
I also enjoyed what Mah learned about the value of vacation. I’m all for taking regular time off! It can be a challenge as cross-cultural workers who raise support to justify using those funds for a vacation, yet time to rest and play feeds our souls and bodies. It helps us to keep going for the long haul in the midst of some of the challenges that come with cross-cultural life.
Do you have a favorite food memory? How do you handle vacations while on the field? Have you tried salad lyonnaise, soupe au pistou, or cassoulet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:
November 16: Chapters 7-8
November 23: Chapters 9-10, Epilogue
November 30: Giving Tuesday