Saturday, June 19, 2010

In search of pie

So earlier this week, J and I were chatting with our host mom about food, which is one of our favorite subjects. Our host sister had just served us some insanely delicious crepes with dulce de leche, and we were discussing baking projects. In Spanish, I explained that I preferred to make cakes and cookies, but that I had a little trouble with ... and here I paused.

The word I wanted was "pie." And in high school, the word I'd learned for that was torta. But in Oaxaca, a torta is a delicious sandwich (like the one pictured above) which we happened to be eating at the time. Clearly I needed a different word, so I tried to describe it.

It is like a cake, but it is not a cake, I explained. It has the dough at the bottom, and sometimes at the top, but sometimes no. And in the interior there is fruit or sometimes cream or something sweet. In high school, we said torta, but it is not torta like this (gesturing toward the sandwich).

Years ago, as an English teacher, I'd had a similar conversation in the Czech Republic and was crushed to learn that my students had only a dim understanding of pie. It was near Thanksgiving, and in a fit of nostalgia, I'd ended up drawing three-dimensional diagrams on the board, to no avail. I was beginning to fear that Oaxacans would be equally unfamiliar with the fabulousness of pie, but my fears were baseless. My host mom nodded in comprehension. Clearly she knew the word I was looking for.

"Es como pie?" she asked. Is it like pie? Um, yes, as it happens. It is very much like pie...

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