Simplest of meals

I made myself a simple dinner tonight at my friend Benji's apartment here in Barcelona. What could be easier than pasta with tomato sauce?

It reminded me of high school track dinners, a pleasant memory. Pasta can be such comfort food, and after our stay in Italy I came away with so many ideas for primi piatti (first courses). This time I threw in a can of tuna for a variation on the basic red sauce.

I bought the vegetables from a Chinese family running a little fruta-y-verdura place not far from this apartment. My friend had told me that there is a lot of hostility directed towards Chinese immigrants here in Spain because of the impression that their businesses are trying to undercut the market. So I wasn't too surprised when the woman at the cash register refused to ask any of my questions about where she came from in China, pretending she didn't understand me when I said that I heard her speaking Mandarin. It was only when I explained that I was from the U.S., and that my husband was Chinese, that she began to smile and offer me a few words in Mandarin. We ended up laughing at my poor Chinese, and I left the store feeling the small satisfaction from having made the connection with her over something. How hard it must be to move to a country, and then have to pretend that you're not from the place you came from!

To the grocer's credit, the tomatoes were firm, the lettuce was fresh, and I pulled together the meal in no time. Though I love trying new food around Barcelona -- I had a tortilla espanola for lunch -- there's nothing as grounding for me as cooking for myself in a foreign city. Even tonight, with only a ramshackle kitchen at my disposal and a calico cat to keep me company, I was happier eating my own food, made with my own hands, than eating yet another mediocre tapas plate.

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