Close your eyes. Picture your favorite meal. Imagine the sights and smells emitted from that delicious plate, bowl or pot of steaming goodness. Is it sweet or savory? Who gave you the recipe? Visualize them teaching you how to fold, smooth, stir, kneed, sear, sauté or measure the ingredients in just the right way. When was the last time you saw or talked with him/her? Now consider your emotions at this moment. Are you happy or sad? Are you smiling or crying? For me, those sights and smells trigger powerful memories of cheerful times. I distinctly remember my grandmother and mother showing me how to roll just the right sized meatball and when to add them to the bubbling gravy (tomato sauce). I see family feasts around a fully extended mahogany claw foot table. Chairs crammed where ever they will fit as we all talk freely about anything and everything. I can smell the baked chicken, the roasted sausage and crispy potatoes. I can see steam rising from lasagna fresh from the oven. Growing up this was a habitual Sunday gathering. As you may have guessed I was not a skinny child.
Food brings people together. Wherever I travel in this world it is an eternally present fact. Put a hearty meal on the table, and people start smiling. Add a little beer or wine they start laughing. One of the goals for this assignment is for me to build relationships. Well that is something I know how to do! It’s a simple recipe that can be repeated throughout time.
I come from a big Italian family were social gatherings revolve around food. In fact I distinctly remember many conversations, during family visits, about what we were going to eat for dinner… while eating lunch. Nepal is not much different, whenever we decide to have an office party the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “What are we eating”. I have also taken part in many remote mountainside lunches and eaten Dal Bhat more times than I can count.
Conversation is just easier over a nice meal. Stories usually revolve around whose family recipe this is and how they learned, eventually flowing into entertaining anecdotes. Food, in my opinion, is the ultimate ice breaker. Those tales flow and evolve naturally into discovering similarities and memories from our diverse histories. Breaking bread with friends and family, both old and new is the best way I have discovered to learn about the people I interact with and what motivates them. I am humbled to call many of these people friends. This is further reinforced by an interesting Nepali custom to not call anyone by their sole name. Additions like Dia (Older Brother), Bhia (Younger Brother) and Didi (Sister) are placed on the end as a form of respect. They often eliminate the first name altogether when addressing someone they don’t know in a restaurant or store. So “Monkey see, monkey do” and I have picked up this habit as well. It has been a great privilege to be accepted as a friend and yes even family in the first half of my PULSE assignment. As I return from my home break, I look forward to seeing my new friends, forging new relationships and with a little luck there might just be something delicious waiting for me as well.