A Latin Affair: Meal time in Mexico
AMAZING aromas drifting from the stove.
Kids and adult children dropping in frequently, helping themselves to whatever is on offer.
Everyone pitching in with the chores - which seem to be an endless cycle.
And a radiating warmth, with the odd tut-tut, from the head of the family - abuela (grandma).
Yes, staying with a Latin American familia is exactly as you might expect.
Shows like Jane the Virgin, and even Modern Family to an extent, have given us a comedic insight into Latino families living in the states.
But it ain't much different south of the border.
Of course, mobile phones are pervading dinner time, just like back home.
But the home phone, something many of us now do without, rings much more frequently - and ALWAYS at meal times.
Breakfast in a Mexican home is between 7am and 9am, depending on school and work.
It usually includes a platter of fruit and eggs with a red or green salsa.
Or chiliaquilles - tortillas baked with chicken, beans, green or red salsa, with dollops of sour cream.
Salsa verde, the green salsa, should be served with every meal - incredible taste with just the perfect amount of kick!
Comida, which means food in Spanish but usually refers to the main meal of the day, is 2-4pm, usually after 3pm in my host family after the kids get home from school.
It consists of a soup, main meal with meat and veggies in incredible sauces and, occasionally, dessert.
Stuffed capsicums or eggplant are also common. And delicious.
It's not unusual for professional sons to drop by for comida, sometimes with colleagues.
Nor is it strange for entire families to drop by after school for comida.
If a dish is not already prepared, they just use ingredients on offer to make their own.
They will jump in to clear up or do the dishes too.
Even the five-year-old can be seen on a step ladder in the afternoons helping her abuela prepare cena.
Given the size of comida, cena is more like a supper than a dinner.
It happens about 8-9pm and can vary between sweet and savoury options.
Cheesy quesadillas, chicken tacos, tamales - sweet corn dough centre, with either meat or fruit inside, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks - waffles, bananas with ice-cream, the list goes on...
Incredibly, no meal was the same during three weeks at this huge home in Cuernavaca.
And every meal was restaurant worthy, often eliciting a "muy rico" a mouthful or two in.
My host abuela had two grandchildren living with her, a 19-year-old music student who loves yoga, and a typical teenage girl, 15, who is always on her phone and has friends dropping over all the time.
The five-year-old, the half sister of the 15-year-old, is there every afternoon until 9-10pm when her parents come to fetch her after their daily English classes.
They all show great affection for the head of the family, from a cheek kiss when returning home from school to patting her hair or rubbing her arm while they talk.
It's not necessary to go into the detail of why they live there but it's fair to say divorce is common in Mexico and fractured families are increasingly the norm.
Just like everywhere else.
My abuela was not short of friends either - remember that constantly ringing phone?
On Wednesdays she often meets with friends for meals.
The week of Valentine's Day, I arrived home to find about 10 lovely ladies donned in red at the gorgeous dinner table.
There was even red heart-shaped balloons as decoration and everyone got party bags to take home.
Generosity. Kindness. Love.
It's easy to sum up Mexican family life.
The writer paid to stay in a homestay for three weeks to enhance her spanish school experience in Mexico. While money exchanged hands, the experience described was genuine.