Transits

material culture, migration and everyday life

Month: June 2019

Notes from the field – Berlin #2, Sardinhada in Berlin

Last weekend I attended the baby shower of one of our participating families in Berlin. There, I learned that following weekend there would be a Portuguese party at Monbijou Park in central Berlin. No more information was given to me at the time, but a quick google search guided me to the facebook event.  The event was in effect a sardinhada (sardine barbecue), which is a very seasonal event particular to this time of the year. The sardine fishing season started just a couple of weeks ago and June is the month in which  street festivities are held in honour of Saint Anthony, Saint John or Saint Peter (popular saints or santos populares) in many locations across the country.The festivities include bonfires being held and barbecued sardines on bread sold in crowded streets to the sound of loudly playing pimba music

A view of the picnic at Monbijou park, with the grilling station at the back.

But the sardinhada in Monbijou didn’t seem to want to mimic the saints’ festivities from back home. For one thing, there was no loud music. The event looked more like a big picnic, the barbecue station selling the food and beverages and the partygoers  sitting in groups on the blankets they brought from home. Barbecues are permitted in most parks in Berlin, with special signs indicating the areas where they are permitted. This is one of the many uses of parks amongst Berliners. Other uses include sunbathing (often in swimwear), sitting on their own folding chairs and having drinks, hanging their own hammocks in trees, play ball games, etc. The parks seem to define Berlin public life and its inhabitants’ lifestyles, and if this is true, then it couldn’t be truer than in this very hot month of June.

As I park my bike and walk through the crowd, Portuguese, German, Italian and Spanish can be heard. There are people of all ages. I enter the line to buy food. Behind me, two middle-aged women speak Brazilian Portuguese, ahead of me in line, two women in their 20s use youtube on their smartphones to show an English speaking friend, what pimba music sounds like. 

Sardines and German sausages. Portuguese rock salt.

Beer ans soft drinks on ice.

Apron.

From the grilling stand, not only the usual sardines and bifanas (grilled pork steak sandwich) were sold, but here we could also find sausages, which are not traditionally found in sardinhadas I know from home. Is this another Berliner adaptation? I order two sardines on wheat bread, although cornbread is also available. I also order a pineapple Sumol from the ice-bucket holding Portuguese brand beers and soft drinks. Red and white Portuguese whine is also available.

The lady who was slicing the bread stops her task to greet a friend who hands out to her an appron which reads Portugal. This provokes a reaction from her colleagues: they jokingly demand one too.  The drinks and food are provided by a Portuguese supermarket in Berlin, and the bread by a Portuguese-Greek bakery, both publicized. I am told that pastel de nata was available in previous edition, but to my disappointment they are not being sold this year.

The organizers are holding constant 10 minute workshops of bass drums, so soon there is a soundtrack to the event! Later, the rancho (folklore dance) also performs at a near tarmac crossing inside the park. The members of the rancho seem to be all Portuguese or Portuguese descent, and ages seem to go from twenty to sixty-something. Two small girls who look under five, also participate at times, guided by the older performers. The performers are not wearing performing clothes, but their own summer clothes. A gentleman dancer, is wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo Portuguese national football jersey. A lady dancer wears filigree heart earrings from the north of Portugal.

It is seven o’clock but the sun is still shining and the threat of drizzle was just a threat and didn’t spoil the picnic. The sardines seem to be over as only steaks and sausages can be seen in the grill. The last loaves of bread are being sold to the public. I get mine before I leave!

Bass drums workshop.

Notes from the Field: Lisbon #2, Observing meals

It’s always a bit strange to ask someone about their eating habits and then requesting them to let you observe them. Sometimes it feels a bit cheeky as you would eventually be invited to eat; if you’ve warned them in advance, you’re potentially going to be in for an elaborately prepared treat! Alongside this is the more spontaneous, honest, everyday cooking. That isn’t to deny the honesty and normality of elaborate cooking. Wanting to prepare a whole meal is also very much an everyday practice. However, catching someone off guard offers a different side to this.

In the end, they have all had one commonality: they are ‘homely’. I could not find another way to describe it. As someone who has lived alone, I can relate to batch-cooking, making a quick soup or frying an egg as a meal. It is very familiar and no less ceremonial than the elaborate meals. Indeed, one seems more everyday than the other. Yet, the other also presents a type of ceremoniality (‘doing a ceremony’) and indeed becomes part of the everyday, routine nature of self-care and preservation through food.

On this note of the ceremony, I wish to present three instances in which food consumption was part of the meeting. Based on the variation in information provided, the nature of the meal changed, as one would expect. This variation in information provided related to the intended planning of the meetings. For example, in case 2 it was not intended that I observe meal preparation that day. Similarly, in case 3 shopping and preparation were not intended to be presented to me.

Participant No.

Shopping

Informed about need to observe a meal

Meal cooked by participant

Spontaneous?

1

Yes

Yes

Yes

Pre-meditated

2

Yes

No

Yes

Spontaneous, out of need

3

No

Yes

No

Part of weekly routine

In case 1, the meal was particularly prepared with me in mind, alongside an overlap of their own consumption practice. The shopping too was tailored to the meal. In the preceding meeting with the participant, when I asked what the individual was going to cook after our meeting, they said it was a dal (South Asian lentil dish). This was a practice picked up by the participant’s husband’s experience of living in South Asia. The Participant then offered to cook some for me as I said I had not had it in a long time. I am Luso-Indian/South Asian.

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

In case 2, the meeting itself was organized around the need to observe the shopping process. As the participant must organize their shopping days carefully to incorporate personal mobility requirements, the shopping incorporated items needed on a longer-term basis. There was no list involved, and the individual had the types of food they wanted to buy in mind. This included staples (like pasta), snacks, and fruit and veg. One of the items purchased was because I expressed surprise when looking at the products on display – it was a different type of bread. When we got back, we continued to talk and eventually it was lunch time and we were both hungry, so we tried the bread with egg and a spread from their country of origin. 

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

Finally, in case 3, I was invited to observe a meal-focused weekly practice in which the participant wished to present their everyday routine. It was also a revelation of the embeddedness of this participant in the local culture brought about in part by conjugal ties (the individual had married a Portuguese person). The food was therefore Portuguese, arroz do pato, as this included the participant’s extended family. It was not cooked by the participant. On a personal, regular basis, the participant cooks more simple food, with more vegetables. They also mentioned cooking curries often as their husband liked such food.

Image by author, Sinead D’Silva

The topic is the same: food consumption practice. They were all also women, accounting for gender. Yet, the ways in which individuals go about deliberating not just what to eat, but also what to present as their eating practices is telling of a social process of food involving a sense of symbolism as a medium of interaction.

Alongside these different ways in which individuals choose to present themselves or find themselves responding to a situation spontaneously, is a commonality in presenting the self and a sense of hospitality which cuts across cultures. As a result, I always left fed with food and stories.

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