We were on a train from Milan to Venice, and I had just finished reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. I passed the book to my parents and my mom picked it up. She read Marcella Hazan’s story, Eating Alone, where she waxes poetic about dining solo. And anchovies. And sardine sandwiches.
We talked about Marcella Hazan for a little bit, me and my Marcelia. Marcelia is my mom’s name, and I’ve always thought of it as one of the loveliest names in the planet. And her the loveliest woman of all.
I don’t think it a coincidence that one of the brightest names in the food world, Mrs. Hazan, loves some of the same foods as her namesake (albeit their names are spelled with a one letter difference). And also that when eating alone – and with others, too – they choose some of the strongest, most memorable flavors that exist.
“The prospect of eating alone will sometimes make me lose interest in food, and when that happens I must turn to the one thing whose aroma and flavor can powerfully jog my appetite: anchovies…. Nothing matches the thrilling intensity of of an anchovy fillet laid over a slice of grilled bread slathered with sweet butter.”
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to eat was pizza (come to think of it, that is true to this day) and whenever my family and I would go out for pizza, my mom would always request anchovies. I used to think it was gross. I used to think it was too salty. I used to prefer pepperoni. Or meat-lovers.
But not anymore. My mom has taught me to love anchovies. Nowadays I, too, always request anchovies. In pizzas. In pastas. In salads. Always with garlic. And a pinch of red pepper flakes. Never too gross, never too salty.
Marcella Hazan also talks about sardines in her short story:
“a buttered English muffin toasted dark, is what I like to eat with sardines that still have their skin and bones. I do not buy feeble-tasting boneless, skinless sardines.”
My mom has taught me to love sardines, too (or sardinas, as we call them back home).
My mom would make these little sandwiches, made with spicy Spanish sardines (always from a jar, never from a tin), on a hot buttered pan de sal (Filipino bread roll). It is very similar to how Mrs. Hazan describes her favorite open faced sandwich, also made with sardines that are in no way feeble but in every way robust and memorable.
Today, I am eating an open faced sardine sandwich – with sardines that still have skin and bones, on whole wheat bread, toasted dark, slathered with creamy butter.
I am eating alone, but unlike Marcella Hazan, this does not make me lose interest in food. In fact it makes me appreciate food even more.
I am thinking of the intense saltiness of anchovies. I am savoring the dense, oily, familiar taste of sardines. I am thinking of my Marcelia, and everything my mother has taught me. And I’m filled with the warmest waves of love.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy! I love you.