Last December I found myself in an awfully cold afternoon, walking around the Upper West Side with some time to spare before work started. Because I did not have breakfast, rushed out of class, and the subway was running - magically - on time, I was on the hunt for something to eat. Having been around 4 p.m., it was an awkward moment to grab lunch but too early for dinner.
As my fingers were freezing off, I noticed a waitress smile at me from the other side of the window I was walking by. Guts grumbling from the lack of substance, I walked into this petit piece of France, Vin Sur Vingt. They were just starting to prepare for dinner time, said the waitress, but they could fix me some soup.
She walked to the end of the bar, where she had been cleaning glasses, towards the two cooks sitting at the end of the wooden plank. She politely instructed them, half in French, half in Spanish, that I had ordered soup. As they started preparing my meal, the sweet and slightly salted, mouth-watering smell of toast, onions and melted gruyere filled the room. French onion soup can truly bring a man back to life.
I don’t know if it was the hunger or the cold, but that cup of soup tasted heavenly. I guess I was smiling as I ate, because all three individuals stared at me, grinning. The clacking of my spoon against the ceramic cup was deafening; it was only us four within the restaurant’s walls. They awaited to see my final reaction.
While I scooped and swallowed, I could not help thinking about the biggest similarity between cuisines: the love and pride of cooking. In this situation, thoughts about pasta, tapas, soup, paella, pizza, goulash, and Greek salads came to mind. I could not help pairing each dish with a Mexican similarity.
Though historically Mexicans and Europeans loathed each other with blood-boiling-fervor back in the day when the reconquista tendencies kept sending Europeans to Latin America, the ingenious ability of throwing whatever’s available together with lots of love crossed over cultural borders.
I truly believe there is an inherited science behind the craftsmanship of throwing the right ingredients into pots and pans. However, it is not something one can force themselves to learn or study in a way we would with math. It comes naturally and without thinking.
It should feel right to pair ingredients as it felt right to order Tarte Tatin after that wonderful cup of soup. There should be no guilt, no second thoughts, no hesitation. The heart wants what the heart wants… and what the stomach wants, too.