December 12, 2007

Must have tortillas

corn tortillas, HondurasCorn tortillas

When cooking for El Jefe's family, of course
I try to prepare foods that I think they will like. They always do like most, if not all of it, except for that first disappointing Thanksgiving.

But, I also try to expose them to something new or maybe something prepared a little different way. Their food repertoire is very limited and in general, not very healthy, lots of meat, fat, and virtually no vegetables. They themselves have expressed interest in eating healthier and are rightly concerned about the weight of some of the children. My sister-in-law B often asks me how to prepare things that I've made.

When I spend two or more days preparing and cooking, though, I just don't have time to make tortillas, too. One time, I asked my sister-in-law if she would make the tortillas for the party if I would buy the ingredients. It was a bold step, but I really wish the family would realize that I am only one person and there is only so much I can do and still serve all the food hot and fresh. I don't know if it is Honduran custom, our family's custom, or because I'm a gringa, but usually no one lifts a finger!

I used to give a lot of parties in the U.S., even neighborhood gatherings where we would have 50-120 guests. While it was a lot of work and sometimes stressful to plan and organize, the huge difference was that friends, family, and neighbors would help! Among my good friends, the first thing asked when invited to a party was "What can I bring?" They would always bring food, drink, and/or help set up or clean up.

Oops, I'm getting off-track. So....for that party, B made what seemed like 40 pounds (18 kilos) of tortillas, of which about five were eaten. I gave her and la madre a bagful each to take home, put the rest in the freezer and we ate them for a month before we ran out.

Since it is the custom to eat corn tortillas with barbecue, I knew that I had to have tortillas for the last party, even though El Jefe tells me that his mother is the only one in the family that really likes corn tortillas. While grocery shopping, I happened to notice a little boy selling corn tortillas on the street (a miracle in itself as I have never seen anyone selling tortillas on the street in La Ceiba before) and bought a little bag of them. It was only about a dozen very small tortillas, but I knew full well that with all the food I was planning, no one was going to fill up on tortillas.

Right before dinner, when I went to wrap the tortillas in foil to heat them in the oven, I thought, "OMG! I thought there were more tortillas than that!" We had only 7 tortillas for 11 people. (I know Hondurans are laughing at this right now.) El Jefe had eaten the rest for breakfast. "How could you?!" I cried. "Well, you know they aren't going to eat tortillas with all this meat available," he explained. "What am I going to say to the 8th person who asks for a tortilla?" I asked.

To make matters worse − or maybe better − when I went to the kitchen to get the last of the ribs, for the last person who wanted seconds, I discovered the tortillas still wrapped in foil in the oven. Everyone else was already through eating! Oops. I brought them to the table anyway and gave them to la madre, laughingly saying that I forgot. Everyone had a good laugh about the forgetful gringa. No Honduran would ever forget to serve the tortillas, ever. La madre was too full to eat any, but took them home with her.

I often serve tortillas, because TexMex is something I like to cook and the family and friends always like it, too. But in past occasions when I didn't have tortillas with an army-sized, Samuri wrestler-style meal, la madre has whispered sadly to El Jefe, "No hay bastimento?" ("There is no bastimento*")

Later, I asked the group (who were all moaning about how much they had eaten), if, when there was soooo much food like tonight, was it really necessary to have tortillas, too? It wasn't asked in a judgmental way, just a please-teach-this-poor-gringa-the-ways-of-Honduras way. Most said that it wasn't absolutely necessary, but la madre proclaimed,
"Me hace falta" (I miss it or I need it) so that was that. Note to me: Must serve tortillas with all meals.

*Bastimento: The Real Acadamia Española dictionary defines it as an accompaniment, like bread, tortillas, or plantains, that is served with food.

Here in La Ceiba, Honduras, all meals must be served with a bastimento of either cooked bananas or plantains, or corn or flour tortillas, or on special occasions, a plain slice of Wonder-type bread. It doesn't matter if you have potatoes, rice, spaghetti, or three kinds of starches, you still have to have the bastimento, too. However, don't overdo it: you must never, ever serve bananas and tortillas in the same meal. That would be like serving potatoes with spaghetti in the U.S. So now you know.

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