In Spain whilst black and Oven-baked yam tortilla with ham
This is where Africa, the Caribbean and other tropical locales meet Spain. Tortilla as some of you know is the English name for the Spanish favourite tortilla de patatas, traditionally made with eggs, potatoes and onion. It is a classic dish yet versatile dish enjoyed the world over and several millennia old. A variation of the basic tortilla includes garlic and seasonings such as parsley and oregano. In this version yam, a West African favourite replaces the potatoes. Ham, cheese, peppers, red onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, eggs and kale were the other main ingredients used.
My first taste of authentic Spanish food was in Madrid on a three day long weekend to celebrate a friend’s stag do. I knew something was up when I saw a large group of possibly about 15-20 men running towards me all carrying huge bags, the “Ghana must Go” types. My initial reaction was to join them. I will explain why. Here I was in a foreign country I barely knew. Unlike my beloved London, I could count the number of black people I had seen so far on one hand.
All of a sudden I see 15-20 black men, with the same ascriptive characteristics as me, running towards me. I made a quick split-second mental calculation and thought – ooops this doesn’t look good!
As my white (and brown) friends stood rooted to the pavement looking perplexed my self-preservation instincts kicked in. Could this be the end of the road for me? I had not come to Europe to be lynched! Stephen Lawrence, perhaps London’s most infamous case of killing borne out of racism, happened in my first week of coming to England from Ghana. I recall my parents virtually imprisoning me for a whole summer for fear that some marauding racist would harm me. As I stood in the centre of Madrid in a panic almost every racially tinged Hollywood film I’d watched flashed across my mind. I had a decision to make though. Do I bolt just as fast, then figure out what was going on later?
Anyway, the decision was made for me. As I turned to take off, the men with speeds of Usain Bolt, came flying past me whilst I dithered. The locals seemed assuringly relaxed, almost as though for them, this was a normal occurrence. I joined my friends in our collective state of shock as we all just stood there waiting to figure out what might happen next. What could possibly emerge from the corner as the chasers of these men. A bunch of black hating Spaniards? Or just possibly a few black hating Spanish bulls? Well, a few moments passed. The men had long gone and the locals seemed completely unperturbed and were getting on with their lives. We slowly moved on too. It was later explained to us that the men were African immigrants who had taken to selling all sorts of things – fake designer watches, mobile phone covers and little bits and pieces on the road side. It was illegal to sell on the road side so any shout of “police”, “police” presumably from look outs triggered a 100 meter dash down the road. Sigh of relief then. No marauding skin-heads! Relief!
I began, however, to notice strange behaviours that I never encounter in cosmopolitan London. I was followed so closely in a shop that if I didn’t know what was happening I could have thought I was such a VIP that I had been allocated my own personal shopping assistant. The look on his face when I whipped out my credit card to pay for what I had bought was priceless. Don’t black folks use cards here, I wondered? As I walked out of the shop, I did what I thought was customary and courteous. Something every Londoner did to “Cheers mate!” or simply “thanks”. I held the door open for the person behind me. This time they did not accept the “baton” or say thanks and then hold it for the next person behind them and so on and so forth. I momentarily became a reluctant door man albeit one in civilian casuals and holding a bag or two full of shopping. I probably should have countered myself lucky – after all I must have been part of the upwardly mobile ones. I didn’t at least have to sell trinkets on the road side whilst dashing around in sprints anytime “police” was shouted!
My brown friends complained bitterly about the bar man’s invincible glasses later on in the evening when we went clubbing. His spectacles must have been so murky that he couldn’t see through to see any folks of the brown species (Asian) through them. That was not a big deal but, it became one when everybody else was getting refreshed and all you could think about was how hot the club was.
Madrid I am sure is a wonderful place. We experienced some good things and moments. The food was different in a good way and despite the ignorance and subtle racism, I just had to replicate the Spanish tortilla! Madrid is not London or Lisbon though. There were no black folks in suits going to work. The National Health Service in London is majority black and brown Doctors and nurses. My white bosses, white bosses, boss in my last company was black, the highest earner in his field. A fellow African Tidjane Thiam, is making so many waves every time I pick up a London newspaper to read, I wonder if they have mistaken him for a footballer.
London has its issues but, Madrid is where London was in the 60s when the natives could not comprehend a blackman or African doing anything beyond menial jobs.
I hope that in years to come, when I revisit Madrid, especially now it has it’s own burgeoning Afro-population crying out for change, the security man would be grateful a customer had come to spend some money to pay for his wages and when I hold doors open for folks they would not automatically assume I was the doorman!
Anyway back to all things tortilla!
The common yam admittedly comes without any great pretensions. Its flavour is unassuming but, chosen well and cooked well it provides a mushy texture beloved of the tuber’s fans. Added as the base of a tortilla or Spanish omelette, it adds a dimension to the typical tortilla flavour that the simple potato could not muster. The boiled yam needs to be boiled soft and almost at the point of breaking into crumbs. This allows the eggs plus other ingredients mixture to sip through the crevices.
This is a simple recipe made even simpler by opting to oven bake the yam tortilla. Mind you frying the yam first in a little olive oil before oven-baking gives the yam a mushy and silky rich taste. In fact I’d suggest you focus on making the yam as special as you can by perhaps seasoning the chopped yam before boiling.
The addition of ham is to introduce a “meaty” flavour to this. Yam tortilla is a hearty comfort food par excellence. Serve it hot, warm or at room temperature.
Click to get the recipe for the Oven-baked yam tortilla with ham