April 15, 2007

Cultural differences: To debone or not debone

In Honduran comida tipica (typical food), I mentioned the custom of serving meat on the bone in food that is held in the hand or eaten from a spoon. I've often wondered if this habit is a sort of passive-aggressive behavior among the Honduran women. It's said that many Honduran men expect their women to serve them, to cook for them three times a day and clean for them, even if the man isn't working and the woman is.

In North American culture, anything that is served with a spoon should fit on a spoon or be able to be cut with a spoon. It's that simple. It seems logical. When I cook chicken soup, I cook the whole chicken with the bones because the bones add a lot of flavor. When I'm finished, though, I spend half an hour or more deboning it and cutting the meat into spoon-size pieces.

In Honduras, the chicken is cut up into smaller pieces for the soup but left on the bone. The only way to eat that meat is to pick it up out of the soup and eat it from your hands. The same thing happens with beef on the bone and caracol (conch) which is cut up but left in pieces much too large for the spoon, or even the mouth for that matter.

Every culture has foods that are eaten out of hand on bread, pitas, tortillas, pie crusts, crackers, etc. − sandwiches, burritos, pizza, hors d'oeuvres, empanadas, egg rolls, and a million other things. In the U.S., these types of foods don't include inedible things like bones that you have to fish out. It has always surprised me that Honduran women aren't expected to debone the food for their men before serving it in a tortilla or a bowl of soup.

I'd like to think that they are making a statement: "I've done enough; pick out your own bones!" It may be that they just don't have the time. It takes a long time to make tortillas for 6 or 8 or 10 people, sometimes three times a day, not to mention all the rest of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and caring for the children.

But it is more likely that the custom arose because they just don't want to waste any meat that would cling to the bones.

Although American women get a bad rap, I do go to the trouble to make sure that El Jefe doesn't break a tooth on his burritos or have to fish out chunks of bones from his soup. So there!
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