Friday, November 15, 2013

A cultural recipe: el menjunje & la zambumbia


Recently while Carlos was in Ciudad de Panamá and I had tired of getting by on grilled cheeses with tomatoes (the adult “upgrade” of Khalil’s favorite food) and cereal, I decided to throw together a warm meal for myself, a menjunje. I had a craving for my mother’s gazpacho con bacalao,’ which some folks also call serenata de bacalao.’ Anyway, it turns out I had neither bacalao’ or avocadoes in the fridge, but I had some root vegetables, spinach, tomatoes and eggs. And so, I went to work in approximating my mother’s recipe minus some [important] ingredients. I boiled some blue potatoes, carrots, yucca, ñame, and two eggs, then I sautéed tomatoes, and spinach in olive oil to which I added a dash of cider vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder and the eggs. It turned out quite tasty, a perfectly eatable menjunje.

I am intrigued by the word menjunje [men-hoon-hay, huh?!]. The food I threw together (described previously) was my menjunje but a menjunje can be anything at all. That is, any type of food thrown together and made eatable. I suppose that is the difference between menjunje and zambumbia/sambumbia. I think of menjunje as the gathering of odds and ends, pieces of this and that to make a meal. Like turning thanksgiving leftovers into a soup, for example, or like turning day old white rice into arroz chino (see this, it is actually really easy and delicious!). The thing is that menjunje has a positive connotation and means that something is eatable, suitable for consumption. Whereas I think of a zambumbia/sambumbia as something that doesn’t taste very good, the equivalent of a culinary failure—in short: algo que sabe malo, no algo que sabe malisimo! But for me the two words, menjunje and sambumbia/zambumbia share the characteristic of odds and ends added together, “thrown together” to make something satisfactory but not stellar. Yet, a menjunje tastes tolerable while a zambumbia is unbearable. What do these words mean to you? Have you ever had or made either of these?