Friday, September 7, 2007

Stuffing My Face



Nothing terribly exciting has gone down this past week. School continues to be interesting and different each day with the different schedules and getting to know the kids. Shopping for anything is always an adventure and I'm constantly on the lookout for the cashier that looks "the nicest." My runs around the country are becoming more routine, although I am always on guard for a herd of cattle lest I end up making my own mini Pamplona. I've also found a great little tienda (corner store/bistro type place) about two blocks from my apartment that has become a favorite after school hangout. The lady who owns it makes the meanest hamburger I've ever had in my entire life. Which leads me to write a little about Colombian cuisine and eating habits.

Before I came down here, I was a little concerned that my Scandinavian palate wouldn't be able to handle a lot of Latin American foods. I've literally broken out in sweat eating buffalo wings. I've been pleasantly surprised that Colombians do not use a lot of spices in their cooking, save for a lot of salt. Rice is significantly more salted than in North America, as are a lot of meat dishes. It is also not uncommon to have beer served in a glass with a salted rim like a margarita would be. Salt is not commonly found on dinner tables, since the food has plenty on it already. It is actually seen as rude to add more salt to food at the table because it means you did not like the way the chef made it and are trying to cover up the taste.

I've already talked about the fruits here a little in previous entries so I won't dwell on them too much. It is fun to buy "exotic" produce that is really expensive back in the States here for next to nothing and see apples, strawberries, and pears priced way beyond what they're worth. There are so many different types of each fruit too.
  • Mangos are my favorite and I haven't met a mango I didn't like. There is even a variety of mango that is sliced long and narrow, like a french fry and then heavily salted. They put them on the table at restaurants and bars where you might normally find peanuts.

  • I have decided that papayas are gross and taste like a combination of nothing and puke.

  • Lulo is a great little fruit that looks like an orange, feels like a peach, peals like a kiwi, and looks like rotting jello inside. The first time I got one I thought I was buying an orange relative and when I went to eat it I thought it had gone bad. Fortunately, I ate it at school for lunch and some of the other teachers assured me it was fine. It's kind of like nature's Jell-O snack pack; you peal back the top and scoop it out with a spoon!

  • Guanábana (say: gwa-NA-BA-na) is a huge green watermelon-sized beast with warty bumps all over it. On the inside it is white and it is GREAT for making juices out of. I can not describe the taste other than to say it is a fiesta in my mouth. I had a jugo (juice drink) at a feria (fair) last weekend with milk and sugar. Unbelievable.

  • Bananas are not a uncommon sight here, however, their good friends the plantain are everywhere. Mostly baked or served fried, there is no end to what Colombians won't use them for. I've had them cut lengthwise, stuffed with cheese, and then baked (gracias, Omaira) and they even were part of the wrapping on some sushi I ate.

  • There is also never a shortage of potatos or yucca (say: jew-KA) root prepared in a variety of ways. Fried yucca is like combining the best of a french fry and a cheese stick.
Despite the plethora of fruits and vegetables, this is not a country for a vegan. Colombians love their meat. Pork, chicken, beef...it is never hard to find. Case in point: recently, there was a party for the High School faculty. They brought out at least 18 platters of food. These platters held heaps and heaps of meat. Chorizo sausages, pork, chicken nuggets, blood sausage, and cow lung (which is only gross when you eat one after being told what it is...before it is delicious!). Now it wasn't all meat, there was a nice tomato and lime wedge border on a bed of lettuce, some potatoes, yucca, and fried plantains.

Colombians drink their yogurt. Anyone who likes to spoon their yogurt should not come here. You can not find thick yogurt. You think you can! You find a little cup of yogurt with the tear-away top...but no. It is liquid. You get used to it, but I definitely miss my Yoplait Whips at lunch...

A student asked the other day, when we were discussing my lack of Spanish language knowledge, how I shop for food. I told them the shopping isn't the problem. You can always look at the picture on the box or figure things out by the other nearby food items. Paying isn't even that difficult, as long as the price screen is in view. (If it's not, then I'm screwed.) What is difficult, though, are the sales people. I don't know what the deal is, but Colombians have the need to put people in ridiculous outfits, in every aisle, selling a specific brand. The spaghetti guy is dressed like Chef Boyardee, there is a girl in a mini skirt and a neon green wig by the laundry soap, another pair a girls in a sexed-up mechanic's jumpsuit next to the...cereal (it doesn't have to make sense). It is definitely not hard on the eyes, it can be hard on the wallet though. Basically, you are in great danger if you hesitate for one second over a product choice. Either know exactly what you want or risk becoming a piece of consumer-meat. You will end up with stuff in your cart you do not necessarily want. Also, you can look at the slutted-up grocery girls all you want, but Lord help you if you make eye-contact. Seriously, it's game over. End of story.

Hope everyone is good and hungry...I'm off to lunch to eat my mango and drink my yogurt!
¡Buen provecho!

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