Friday, July 8, 2011

Living without a Hot Water Tap

If someone were to ask you what was the one feature of your kitchen that you just couldn't live without you might reply, "I have no idea." But if you really thought about it a good guess might be that it was running water - specifically hot and cold running water coming right out of the tap, or feeding the dishwasher, or even automatically filling the ice cube tray in your freezer. How could a modern kitchen operate without water - without water that's cold and without water that's hot?

One of the surprises that met me when I moved from Canada to Fortaleza, Brazil, a modern, relatively well-to-do, progressive city of about three million, was that the kitchen sink only had a single tap and  faucet. So did the bathroom sinks and the showers, and the washing machine, but this is a blog about food, so we'll leave that aside for now. There was no hot water tap and there was no cold water tap, there was just a tap, and what came out of it was water of a temperature that could best be described as tepid. This one-tap situation is almost universal in Fortaleza. It's not just in the favelas and small apartments that you find only one temperature of running water - in multi-million dollar and multi-thousand square feet penthouses on Beira-Mar, Fortaleza's oceanfront drive, there's still only one tap and one temperature of water.

Because the climate in this part of the world is relatively changeless in terms of temperature and because that temperature is hot (average daily high of 86F or 30C all year round), it's natural that the reservoirs that furnish municipal water here won't be pouring out ice-cold, barely-liquid water like the reservoirs that serve Vancouver, my previous home base. In Canada cold water means COLD, really COLD. Here, no.

At first, I thought that not having access to hot water from the tap would really change the way I cooked. In particular, I thought it would have a tremendous impact on how I cleaned up after cooking. Granted, not having a dishwashing machine for the first time in many years was a big change, but actually getting pots and pans, dishes, cutlery and glasses clean turned out not to be a problem. Because no one has hot water, it seems the dish detergents sold here are specifically formulated for tepid water, because they work very well, even on greasy pots and pans. Clean-up is a breeze.

For most other kitchen tasks, such as washing fruits and vegetables, I found that tap water worked just fine. In Canada, I used to have to mix cold and hot water to get water that I could stand plunging my hands in - here, it's not an issue. Water for use in cooking also creates no problems - straight out of the tap and onto the stove.

What turned out to be a more serious issue than the lack of hot water was the lack of cold water. Not for drinking, as the kitchen has a refrigerated water cooler, but for cooking. Some kitchen tasks require cold water - making pastry and shocking vegetables, just to name two. No longer can I just open the cold tap when I need to do one of these things. Having only tepid tap water means using ice cubes from the freezer to "create" cold water when I need it.

I've become so accustomed to one tap that I don't really even notice the lack of hot and cold water anymore. Expatriate life teaches one to be adaptable - if you're not adaptable you'll make a miserable expat. I just chock it up to one more thing that makes living away from one's native country all that much more of an adventure - a daily adventure.

10 comments:

  1. Hey James, I know the feeling! I've been living here in Rio for the past year and we have the same situation - the only hot water comes out of the shower.

    The one thing I really miss it for is washing the butter dish - I actually boil a little water on the stove to melt away the grease! Jeez, I'm swapping dish-washing tips - time for me to get a life! ;)

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  2. Great comment! I won't get into discussing dishwashing techniques, I promise. Do have to mention though that I didn't discuss bathrooms in the original artical, as this is a food blog but I've noticed in Rio everyone seems to have a water heater for the shower - not so, here in Fortaleza. What comes out of the tap is what you cook with and what you bathe in.

    Great blog, by the way. I've linked to it on my blog list. Hope you don't mind.
    JAMES

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  3. Wow, unheated water from the shower? I hope for your sake it's warmer up there in Fortaleza than it is in Rio at the moment! :)

    Thanks for the link. I am really enjoying your blog - it's great to hear another estrangeiro's take on living in Brazil. And great to see you share my obsession with food, drink and all things culinary. I look forward to trying your recipes - no problem for me to find those 'exotic' ingredients!

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