Friday, February 18, 2011

Fridays on Food and Faith

The Best Meal I Ever Had
I read a story the other day by M. F. K. Fisher in Food and Faith where she shared the best meal she had ever had. It left me wondering and searching and reflecting; what was the best meal I had ever had? 

What immediately came to mind was not necessarily the meal itself, but the occasion for the meal and the people I shared the meal with. For instance, I thought of my grandparent's spaghetti, which is always something I ask them to make when I am back in Colorado - a feast of spaghetti with my grandma's homemade sauce, meatballs (and my grandma even makes meatless meatballs for me), garlic bread, and salad - usually with tomatoes and cucumbers right from my grandpa's garden. This meal is usually for a large number of family members to gather together for a meal to celebrate our time in Colorado.

Another meal that came to me was my mother's homemade macaroni and cheese, always with extra large shells, which was my favorite meal growing up. It might still be. My mom would always make it for me whenever I was home visiting from college. Creamy, cheesy sauce and noodles with extra cheese perfectly browned right on top. After that it would usually result in hours upon hours of scrabble late into the night. How I miss that.

But if I were to tell the story of the best meal I had ever had, it would probably be one in which I couldn't speak to half of the people at the table with me. It would probably be the one in which I don't even know exactly what it was I ate. It would probably be the meal I ate the night before Easter 2008 at Casa Concordia in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Casa Concordia offers a safe place to stay for foreign travelers to El Salvador and is part of the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. I stayed there for Easter weekend with my fellow Alternative Spring Break-ers after a week working on a Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build - which means many groups of volunteers came from all over - the US, Canada, Korea and Spain were represented that week. I found myself there with California Lutheran University's Community Service Center. 

We arrived at Casa Concordia after a fun day of zip-lining through the rain forest canopy.

 We had time to settle and rest, we played games with the kids ( it also serves as an orphanage for a few children) and even got to spend time in the kitchen learning how to make tortillas. 

Stine and Evelyn

Franklin writing a letter to me 

Me, Franklin and Raymundo

As our hostesses were setting the table we noticed that there were far too few place setting for the number of people staying or living at Casa Concordia. We asked why there were only 6 plates when there were 17 of us - and they said that we needn't be bothered by the children.  It just seemed so strange, to be visiting and serving the people of El Salvador, yet not able to eat with them. We insisted that we all share a meal together. After much convincing and a tough time translating, we eventually found ourselves and our hosts, all 17, eating together at the same table. 

We ate fried vegetables, rice, plantains, and those wonderful homemade tortillas - but more importantly, we ate together. We chatted and made hand signals and savored the tastes, sounds, smells and emotions that were passed around. I vividly remember seeing the children with such excitement on their faces to be sharing a meal with visitors with whom they are normally segregated from. I remember smiles and sharing and satisfaction. I remember joy.  

Here is the family with whom I celebrated the resurrection of our Lord that year.

This meal was with people I only knew for a short time, and this was before I really learned how to speak Spanish, yet I remember it fondly. I especially cherish the time in which we all came together for a simple, traditional meal, everyone included and all invited, and celebrating. Celebrating the completion of a week of hard work building houses. Celebrating Easter. Celebrating community.

Of the best meals I've ever had, the ones that I remember most vividly were not because of the food itself but because of the occasion, the people and the celebration. Celebrating time home with family, celebrating birthdays or graduations, celebrating togetherness, community and Christ's love. 

This was the best meal I ever had - yet I have no doubt that there is a best yet to come. 

Other meals in El Salvador: 


 Making Pupusas

 Rice, beef and tortillas 

I would love to hear stories about the best meal you've ever had.