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Culture —– Dinner in Latin America

by Brandi

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January 14th, 2011

There is quite a cultural difference between the attitude towards mealtime and food in Latin America and the attitude found in the United States. Food is a major part of life in Latin America. It is not just food that is so important but the ritual of eating and sharing food with others that has deeper meaning.

Before I get too deep into mealtime, let me say that the food in Latin America might not be exactly what we in America picture it to be, especially in South America where most people have never heard of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and other typical “Mexican/American” dishes. I lived for a while in South America and had the opportunity to eat many different types of delicious food. I ate a lot of beans, rice, and fish, but I also had many exotic foods such as guinea pig, cow stomach, pig’s feet, and many other unrecognizable meats that I did not dare ask what they really were as I ate them.

On a similar note, I had a friend who has recently returned from a trip to Mexico. He had an “exciting” train ride around Mexico and could not wait for his first meal of authentic “Mexican food” – the kind he was used to eating in America. He was very disappointed to learn that the “Mexican food” in Mexico is very different from the Americanized version of Mexican food he was accustomed to in the U.S.

Now back to the general attitude towards mealtime in Latin America. In many smaller pueblos (lower income areas), people do not have enough money to purchase pre-prepared, processed, or even canned foods. Many women make absolutely everything from scratch and spend hours in the kitchen every day providing meals for their families.

Just about every meal I had in Latin America was prepared by a native Spanish speaking woman. When they would prepare food, they were not just preparing a meal but it was almost as if they put an emotional part of themselves into the food they gave us. As a result, it was always expected that we eat every bit of our food or they may be offended.

After just about every meal, they would always ask if I wanted more. If I said, “No thanks, I’m full”, they would be deeply hurt and act as if I were rejecting them as well as their family. I quickly learned my response should be, “Yes, I’d like just a little bit more since I am almost full”. They would then beam with joy and come back, sometimes, with an even bigger serving than before. Needless to say, mealtime often took a lot longer than expected to eat the many servings of food that was brought out.

Moral of the Story: If you want a great cultural experience, try eating at the home of a Latin American family. However, remember that you must eat everything that is served. Never use the excuse of being full or that you have an allergy to something; it does not work and will almost always make the person feel bad. If you are not an adventurous eater, I recommend staying home and stick to eating Top Ramen™.

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