Food is the universal language

I love cooking. I always have. There is something about the way something seems to come from nothing that I have always enjoyed

I love cooking. I always have. There is something about the way something seems to come from nothing that I have always enjoyed about it.

This weekend, I attended the Edmonton Heritage Festival. While the festival’s cultural performances and ethnic items for sale were interesting enough, the reason I, and I suspect many other people continue to attend the festival is for its huge variety of food.

After buying a sheet of food tickets, I was able to wander around the festival, travelling to different countries with my taste buds as my passport. I went to Italy for gelato, India for curry, and Ecuador for a chocolate-covered banana. I also got a mozzarella empanada from Ecuador, hoping to taste one like I used to eat in Argentina.

Empanadas are little pockets of dough usually filled with meat or cheese. They are common across all Latin American countries. I learned to make them when I was visiting an estancia, a South American ranch.

I was staying in a tiny town about an hour outside Buenos Aires, in a province of the same name. Some estancias are open to visitors, like guest ranches here, and I wanted to have the quintessentially Argentinean experience of riding a horse across the pampas. Unfortunately, rainy, muddy weather thwarted my plans.

I met a lady who ran one of the estancias I wanted to visit while I was wandering around the town, and she offered to let me spend the day at the ranch. I accepted.

I spent most of the day indoors. The house on the estancia was charming in a rustic sort of way. Terracotta tiles lined the floor, the furniture was carved wood, and fabric with a variety of woven colours hung on the wall.

She took me to the kitchen. Tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella lay on the counter – all the ingredients for Caprese empanadas, like the classic Italian salad of the same name. The empanada dough was already made.

We set to work dicing the tomatoes and cheese and chopping up the basil. Then we wrapped all three in circles of dough and fried them. The dough turned golden brown and crispy. When I took a bite of one, the cheese inside had melted around the basil and tomato in a mass of savoury goodness.

Earlier in my time in Argentina, I learned to make another kind of food. At the time I was in the city where I was attending university, and living in a hostel. I had been unable to find an apartment or a roommate.

I had my own room at the hostel, and I shared a bathroom and kitchen with the rest of the guests. Being relatively new to staying in a communal environment, I was worried someone would take my food (no one ever did, at any hostel I stayed at). I compensated by eating the breakfast the hostel provided, keeping a few foods in my room, and getting the rest of my food ready-made from the bakery on the corner or the vendors on the beach. Needless to say, my diet wasn’t the healthiest as a result of this.

One night, a number of the other guests approached me and asked if I wanted to contribute to the ňoqui they were making (it’s spelled as “gnocchi” in Italian). I agreed, and added my parmesan, tomatoes, and peppers to the food pile.

Ňoqui is a type of pasta, made from potatoes and flour. A huge pile of potatoes sat in the hostel kitchen, which were peeled, boiled, and mashed. Next, we added enough flour, plus one egg, to turn the potatoes into a dough.

We rolled it into long strands, cut them into pieces, and boiled them again. The dough became slightly firmer. The noodles we’d made were served with a sauce made from vegetables and spices that had been contributed. Everyone who had helped sat around the table in the hostel dining room and ate together. I was lucky if I knew my dining companions’ names, but in that moment, I experienced the power that food truly has to bring people together. We may not all eat the same food, but we all have to eat, and sometimes, that’s all that matters.

Just Posted

Kenney talks pipelines with Trudeau after election win, calls it cordial

Almost a year ago Kenney dismissed Trudeau as a dilettante and a lightweight

Sylvan Lake Youth Services receives grant for mental health programming

The Alberta Health Services grant will be put towards running the Community Helpers Project

Sylvan Lake’s Leaders of Tomorrow awards get a new look

The Youth Sparks Awards will feature six award categories on May 31

Novice Sylvan Lake Buccaneers sail to home opener win

The novice Buccaneers played in a triple-header with the bantam and midget Buccaneers on April 12

Former Sylvan Lake resident receives humanitarian award

Humanitarian efforts see Sylvan Lake native recognized for long-term contributions

‘Open for business:’ Jason Kenney’s UCP wins majority in Alberta election

The UCP was leading or elected in 63 of 87 seats Tuesday night

Undercover cops don’t need warrant to email, text suspected child lurers: court

High court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills of Newfoundland

VIDEO: Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday

Alberta RCMP reminds Albertans how to be ‘egg-stra’ safe this Easter

Put away phone while driving, plan for a designated driver

B.C. awaits Kenney’s ‘turn off taps,’ threat; Quebec rejects Alberta pipelines

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he spoke with Kenney Wednesday and the tone was cordial

Federal government extends deadline to make Trans Mountain decision to June 18

The National Energy Board endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline on Feb. 22

Precautionary evacuation for Red Deer, Alta., residents due to industrial fire

City officials are advising people to close windows and doors and to turn off air intakes into homes

Study links preschool screen time to behavioural and attention problems

The research looked at more than 2,400 families

Could a pharmacist’s consultation help more people get vaccinated?

Canadian study suggests giving pharmacists a monetary incentive to consult would cut influenza cases

Most Read