Here is the eight guest author, Monica Reyes, from Robin's Somers' writing class at UCSC, "The Meaning of Food." Her students are offering up their memoirs of childhood food, and it's my pleasure to publish them here.
Monica Reyes, a sophomore at UCSC, was born and raised in El Salvador, where she ate more than her share of wild lobster. Her story of lobster reeks of nostalgia and nausea as she wistfully recollects her special family treks to the balmy seaside. Here, on El Salvador’s warm, salty beaches, her father caught and cooked lobster for his family, creating precious memories of a homeland which Monica revisits through the process of writing.
No More Lobster Please!
by Monica Reyes
For many people, their traditional dish comes from their native homeland. For Salvadorians, it is either popusas or tamales, while for Mexicans it may be posole, tamales, enchiladas, sopes and birria. The list goes on. One of my family’s favorite dishes is lobster with a side of salad—not what one would call a typical Salvadorian dish, but it happens to be our favorite.
I am not saying that we eat at Red Lobster. Instead we catch our own food, cook it, and eat it. In the summer, when the sun is shining, and when it is the perfect time to go to the beach, we do what my dad likes to call “lagostear.” My mom gets the sandwiches and chips ready, and my dad packs his surfing wear, while my siblings and I wait in the car with our swimming suits on. It is on days like these that we have lobster for dinner, and it is precisely here where my story begins.
Catching lobsters, cooking them, and eating them became much more than just another family outing. Doing this became a family tradition, a part of me. This was a time for the family to bond and become united. We often had conflicting ideas when it came to a common activity that the entire family enjoyed doing. I knew for a fact that my dad hated the idea of shopping with my sisters and me. Lobster was something my dad enjoyed most, and it was the only way we could all be together.
As the years passed, we all learned to love lobster, although I am not really sure if it was love or acceptance. What I do know for certain was it helped shape the family we are today as well as becoming part of my family background.
By no means am I arguing that eating lobster has a great deal to do with El Salvador. What I am saying is that eating lobster became a childhood memory, and that is why it is so important to me. I am arguing that there is not always a direct correlation between nationality and favorite dish. I am the perfect example of that. People might not understand and think that I am trying to change my Salvadorian culture, but I am not. I am simply making a tradition of my own. That is all.
Ever since early childhood, I knew that eating lobster was not so common among my friends and their families. Eating lobster with my family made me feel unique and special. Going to the beach with my family was something I really enjoyed as a child. I would be amazed by these creatures, and of course I enjoyed eating them just as a child enjoys candy. Now that I come to think about it, I do not remember if lobster was truly my favorite dish or if it was simply something I would eat because the rest of my family would eat it so much.
This family dish sadly came to an end for me when one day. After eating an entire lobster all by myself, I began to feel sick. That night, I vomited everything I had eaten. I had the stomach flu for about a week. As you may assume, that was the last time I had a good tasty lobster. Yet I am still not certain what got me so sick. I am not sure if I was eating way too many lobsters, which ended up giving me diarrhea, or if it was one lobster in particular that was not well cooked. All I know is that I am not having another one for as long as I live.
As for those who have not had lobster before, I recommend trying one, with a side of salad. The best thing to do would be to cook the lobster yourself, and cook it well. Although I never did much of the “real” cooking, I did prepare the lobster and very carefully watched my father as he so carefully paid attention to the slightest detail: deeply rinse the shellfish from the inside and outside, cut it in half, and spread it with butter, mayonnaise, mustard with slices of tomatoes, onions on the top. It must be covered with aluminum foil and be placed in the oven for about one to two hours; the smell of seafood will definitely tell you it is ready. It smells nothing like fish or shrimp. And last but not least, it should taste as good as candy.
It is evident, through my own experience, that when one keeps on eating something, in my case lobster, over and over again, she will either get sick of it or bored of eating so much that she might feel disgusted and not want to taste it again. That is what most likely happened to me. Not only can I not eat another one of those things, just thinking about them makes my stomach rumble. I find it quite ironic how such a nostalgic smell, a sweet smell I can hardly describe, which once caused me so much joy, is now the last thing I want to remember. It is funny how the brain works. How well I remember every second and how I will never forget.
Now that I am older, I gladly realize that lobster became my childhood food memory. I say “gladly” because I feel fortunate to have this as a part of me. I feel fortunate to have been able to enjoy such a great meal at no cost. If anything, I gained more than I could have ever asked for.
Lobster, yes lobster, became my family lifesaver. It always kept us as one and for that I do not have enough words to express my gratitude. Sure, I got sick from the lobster at one point, but in a way I feel like that was the least of my worries. I do not know if it is just me that feels this way or if the rest of my family, but I know why this memory is so important and that is enough for me. I truly feel that keeping up with this family tradition made my family grow as a whole and made us stronger.
Lobster is not for everybody, but it sure was for my family and me. Some of us may have childhood memories and not even realize it. It is not until one thinks about it that they remember of a certain custom or tradition they do with their families. I love my family, and believe it or not, I still love lobster.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "When I get through tearing a lobster apart, or one of those tender West Coast octopuses, I feel like I had a drink from the fountain of youth." — Joseph Mitchell
And that's all for today. Thanks for visiting!