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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Merienda

Working in the Medical Center in Houston, the options for dealing with a mid-afternoon attack of peckishness is pretty limited. I stood in front of the only open purveyor in the Commons (this enormous structure in the middle of the Med Center that houses a parking garage, a food court, and Trevisio, a fine dining establishment) - Starbuck's - and openly commented that every food item they carried (as well as most drinks) were sweetened. Cakes, cookes, muffins, brownies. No savory options whatsoever.

The poor girl behind the counter apologized, and said that people just didn't buy things that weren't sweet.

That got me thinking that I really miss the meal called merienda. Or, in the proper Spanish, la merienda. Although loosely translated to mean snack, merienda cuisine is markedly different from what Americans consider snacks (which appear to me as extended desserts). They aren't simply sweet items meant to provide a quick spike of blood sugar - merienda foods are proper filling small versions of regular meals, more often savory than sweet. In Spain, such foods as churros are eaten, as well as open faced ham sandwiches, or maybe a hot chocolate, or even potatoes and eggs. I am more familiar with Filipino merienda, which demonstrates the multicultural influences on the cuisine, from noodles in the form of pansit and palabok, to filled rolls (lumpia) or filled steamed buns (siopao), to stews (puto at dinuguan) even to hamburgers, although not the gigantic things found in American restaurants. I think these burgers have more in common with sliders. There are indeed sweet things found in merienda as well, although these items tend to be based off of complex starches such as glutinous rice (ie, tikoy, biko, sapin-sapin, kuchinta) or fruits (turon).

I think this whole concept that huge meals need to tide people over long periods of artificially enforced fasts is likely quite unhealthy, but it culturally stems from a lower respect for eating beyond simply an obstacle to get around a day. I have met people who consider meals nuisances, and simply wolf things down so they can get on with the rest of their lives. I try to sympathize, but I can't see things their way. Plus, just about all of them seem to be battling a weight problem.

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