My mother, my abuela, and me. Moron de la Frontera, Spain. 1980
I read an article in Saveur the other day that made me smile. It was a piece by Elissa Altman titled "The Smuggler," and it tells the story of how her father became a threat to Canadian national security thanks to his mother's habit of sneaking contraband cuisine into his suitcase.
The author's grandmother and my grandmother, mi abuela, would have gotten along like peas and carrots.
My mother was born and raised in southern Spain. She married an American stationed at the military base in her hometown and came to live here in 1961. She left behind her family and everything she knew to settle into military life with her husband and two toddlers in Cordell, Oklahoma. She also left behind a country's cuisine that couldn't be bought or replicated in her new home. This was before the internet, before the explosion of interest in all foods foreign, before we could just pick up a phone or a catalog or click a mouse and make virtually anything we want appear in a few days time.
Every few years, my abuela would make the trip from Spain to the States to visit. I'm sure she brought me trinkets and gifts from Spain, but I can't say that I remember any of those things specifically. What I do remember is that she brought chorizo. Wonderful, delicious, salty and very-much-not-allowed-across-borders chorizo.
My abuela might have been five feet tall in heels, and probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, but she always managed to smuggle in a hefty foot-long chorizo. My favorite story is the one where she slid it into her coat sleeve. Now, chorizo is a pork product, so if you can imagine someone walking around with a couple of pounds of, say, bacon stuffed into their clothing? I imagine you'd notice. Hips don't lie and neither do noses. But who's going to feel up the nice little old lady who doesn't speak any English? No one wants to be that guy. A particularly brave customs agent did call her bluff once, and she simply shrugged and told him it was a long flight. What if she wanted a sandwich? Off they sent her, chorizo and all.
I still love chorizo, and my kids do, too. And yet, it tasted better when it only appeared once in a blue moon. It tasted best when it was smuggled with love.