A Summation and List of Colombian Fruits

If you’ve been bored enough to browse through my travels in Colombia, then you’ve most likely noticed that I’m infatuated with the cheap and plentiful jugos on tap most everywhere around here. I figured that it might be a fun and perhaps useful exercise to detail the various frutas that abound, both in jugo and non-jugo form, here in Colombia:

Guayaba – Ah yes, guayaba. Known as ‘guava’ to us estadounidenses, generally the only form we regularly find it in is a canned juice. Down here, they’ve got guayaba pie, various forms of guayaba pasteles, guayaba doughnuts, and guayaba paste. And of course, jugo de guayaba. The quintessential sabor tropicál.

Guanábana – If you live near some Latin American neighborhoods, you may come across this fruit, at least in juice form. It’s a giant green thing with little spikes on it, and it’s exterior is as soft as dough. On the inside is this slimy, white custardy fruit filled with medium-sized black seeds. The taste is pretty unique, sometimes a little bit weird depending on the state of ripeness. It’s probably best in juice form, but I can tell you from personal experience that picking out all the damn seeds from the fruit is a time-consuming and quite messy endeavor. The juice is reputedly very nutritious, so if you come across the stuff and are malnourished, go ahead and treat yourself.

Piñas – The lovely pineapple, these are pretty much everywhere in Colombia in juice form or sold in carts by street vendors, but for some reason not many of the folk have caught onto using it in their cookery. Gourmands most Colombians are not—but if you stray into a higher-end restaurant somewhere in Cartagena, you may find some entrada with a piña based sauce, such as salchicha en salsa de piña (sausage in pineapple sauce: interesting and tasty, if a bit strange).

Chirimoya – This fruit is the more delicious and voluptuous cousin of the guanábana. It has the same custardy, white interior dotted with thick black seeds, but the taste is much closer to that of a postre than that of a medicine. I fell in love with this fruit in Perú, but unfortunately have not seen too much of it in Colombia. If you ever spot one of these babies, rip it open and commence slurping.

Curuba – You’ll find this in juice form all over the place here. In leche, it tastes kind of like strawberry/banana, but there’s some other strange flavor floating around in it that complicates it, and a grittiness to it sometimes as well. I don’t really like this one very much myself, as that “other flavor” reminds me too much of the wet, muddy smell in the jungle.

Níspero – You’ll find this juice more commonly up around the Costa Caribe. Try this shit in leche. It tastes remarkably like a chocolate malt. No shit. It’s good. One of my favorite jugo treats. It still tastes reminiscent of chocolate en agua tambien. There’s a chalkiness to it that can be disconcerting, perhaps, at first, but just think of it like a malt and concentrate on it’s sweet caramel undertones.

Zapote – This seems to be a favorite up on the coast as well, also common in Medellín, usually mixed with milk. It’s got a subtle berryish flavor, but its taste seems to differ a bit depending where you get it. To me, it kind of has a strange taste that reminds me of the smell of new plastic toys, and so it’s not one I usually order. It’s definitely worth a try, however, as the locals certainly seem to dig it.

Lulo – Ah, lulo. This is another one of my favorites in juice form, and you will pretty much find it everywhere. I generally like it mixed with water, as it has a unique taste that doesn’t require sweetening, and it foams up quite nicely. It has a kind of citrusy, limey kind of taste, with some tropical tartness thrown in that makes it unique and tasty. You’ll also find a beverage made from lulo in the Valle de Cauca region called lulada, and I recommend giving that a try as well; it’s got whole fruit chunks in it, and you get to spoon them out and eat them in-between slurping up its seedy juicy goodness out of a straw.

Maracuyá – This is another favorite, and a regular on the scene in Colombian fruit circles, much like the guayaba. We know maracuyá as passionfruit here in the States. You will regularly find maracuyá jam, maracuyá doughnuts, maracuyá ice cream, etc—and of course, the delicious juice, mixed in water. You can also eat the fruit directly out of the rind with a spoon and some sugar, as it is rather tart. Make sure you try this requisite tropical treat. The taste kinda of reminds me of one of those Big Stick popsicles, which I suppose means that there must be hints of cherry and pineapple in there.

Tomate de Árbol – This fruit has an interesting taste that is reminiscent, as the name suggests, of tomato, but is wilder and tarter. You can scoop the fruit out with a spoon and eat it with some sugar sprinkled on it, or in juice form. I’m not a huge fan of the juice myself, but it’s not bad.

Granadilla – This is a close cousin of the maracuyá, and looks the same, with the same gloopy clump of seeds on the inside. This is another fruit that I’d fallen in love with in Peru. I definitely recommend giving this one a try, just for the experience of eating it alone. You won’t find this one in juice form, but it is plenty sweet all on its lonesome straight out the shell.

Pitahaya – This little weird yellow, spiky football-shaped fruit is a tasty little snack. As I mentioned earlier, it tastes pretty much like a watermelon, but it has a completely different type of fruit—it has this clear, white tinted fleshy fruit with little black seeds in it. I think it is supposedly a diarrhetic as well, so restrain yourself from consuming too many at one time.

Borojó – This is an interesting little fruit. Supposedly it’s got some viagra-like properties when mixed up properly. Otherwise, it’s a zesty and strange little juice that is packed with nutritious vitamins and what not. Try it both in agua and leche and see which you like best. There’s an interesting spiciness underlying its berry flavors that comes to the fore in water, but the berriness come out more in the milk.

Feijoa – Another interesting juice, if you can find it. It’s pretty weird tasting; about the closest way I can describe the juice is that if you took a bunch of the green, leafy tops of strawberries and blended them up together, then you would have a taste similar to feijoa. It’s a kind of tart, woody, grassy flavor.

Limonada, naranja, mandarina, manzana (apple), fresa (strawberry) – These are all pretty self-explanatory, but just a quick word on the jugo de naranja—it’s not the type of oranges that we’re accustomed to in the states (or it may just be that they use them when they are green, I’m not quite sure). Here the juice is much more tart, but I think it’s kind of refreshing in the morning to have that little wake up punch in the mouth.

Papaya, Banano, and Mango – I won’t even bother going into these fruits, as we are already quite familiar with them in the States. Suffice to say that they are everywhere, in the form of fruit, juice, and otherwise.

Coco – Coconut. On the Caribbean coast, you can buy them from street vendors, who will chop off the top and stick a straw into it and viola! You’ve got yerself some fresh coco juice. Nice refreshing snack on a hot day. Also ubiquitous in candies and cakes and such, as it should be. You will also find it mixed in with rice on the Caribbean coast, which is one of the few little tasty variations that the typical cuisine will indulge in.

Fruits which I did not get to try, because I either did not spot them anywhere, or were out of season or something, because the juice places would never have them even though they were listed on the menu (¡Que triste!) – mamuncillo, chontaduro, piñuela, uchuva, caimon, trombolo, and some “p”-word fruit that I can’t recall the name of.

Frutas and Such

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Ah, frutas. This morning we ate maracuyá, granadilla, tomate de arbol, and a pitahaya. I’d already eaten a granadilla before in Perú, but was more than happy to eat another one (and will happily eat an infinite amount more). In the same passion fruit family as the granadilla is also the maracuyá, which looks the same and has the same seedy, mucousy interior. However, it is a little more bitter, and is best in juice. The tomate de arbol looks somewhat like a roma tomato with more coloration, but tastes more like a pomegranate, and needs sugar added to it, like the maracuyá. The pitahaya is a crazy looking football-like yellow-orange thing with spikes on it, and inside it has a clear-white flesh with many small seeds. I kept trying to place the taste of it, and finally figured it out: it tastes and has texture quite similar to a watermelon. Not bad.

As for the finca, it is a little paradise. We are pretty much just relaxing and enjoying eating homecooked meals and fresh juice on a dining table out on an open porch, listening to the brahman cows bellowing, the chickens screeching, the insects whirring, and the multitude of birds whistling their various calls. We are situated in a dense thicket of platano trees in a house made of guadua (bamboo). There is no internet there and we have to get into town to use it, so my posts will be scattered for the next week, but stay tuned for more info on this paradise in the mountainous jungle soon, as well as more pictures.

Oh, and one more thing: not only have I now eaten a guava pie, but now also a guava doughnut! Yes! At Dunkin´Donuts no less, in the terminal de buses in Bogotá. I was quite happy to have a tropical fruit doughnut. The meeting of northern and southern Americas in one fried piece of dough. . .

El Día de Gracias

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¡Feliz día de gracias! We celebrated Thanksgiving Day by eating lunch/dinner at Andres Carne de Res, which was over an hour’s drive outside of the city, but well worth it. This is the place in Bogotá to go and get your beef, drink, and dance on, replete with funky decorations, a full selection of every kind of form of beef or chicken you could desire in extreme moments of bestiality, as well as full of a drink list as you could wish for (whether Colombian or otherwise), a group of entertainers/musicians roving about bestowing customers with crowns, kerchiefs, and necklaces and handing them sparklers and commencing to play impromptu songs, and a giant dance floor to boot. The meat is excellent, served on a sizzling platter along with a bib to protect your formalwear from splatter. I had 2 beers and an aguardiente, and I was quite drunk, due to the altitude. The servers did an excellent job attempting to speak English and accomodate our faltering gringo contingent, and my parents thoroughly enjoyed themselves. My father claimed that it was the best hamburger he’d ever laid chomp to. Not a bad way to pass a Thanksgiving day.

Speaking of food and drink, if you ever come to South America, definitely get yourself some hot chocolate. It’s a way of life down here. One of the typical presentations of such is chocolate santafereño, hot chocolate served with cheese and bread, which I imbibed today as a snack.

Yesterday, I ate (or tried to) a giant serving of sancocho de gallína, which was a hearty stew served with a giant piece of chicken sizzling in a broth with yuca, papa, choclo (corn on the cob), and platano. I also ate a couple of arepas as an appetizer, which is another typical little Colombian snack, a kind of glorified pancake topped with cheese and some salsa.

I also had a piece of guava pie, or pie de guayaba, which was tasty and exotic. I’d never thought to have guava outside of a juice drink before. I definitely hope to eat some more of the tropical fruits that I’ve enjoyed down here before, such as maracuya, guanábana, and granadilla.

Fed Up with Food Research

Anyone else other there get fed up with the constant research detailing specific vitamins and other nutrients that can be found in different fruit or vegetables? Oh, look there’s Vitamin K in leafy greens! There’s lycopene in tomatoes! And so on, ad nauseum. Then they start putting little exclamatory snippets on products like cereal saying “heart healthy omega-3s!” or on ketchup like “contains lycopene!” as if these little magic scientific phrases are supposed to make you leap into the air with joy at the utter healthiness backed up by research that you are consuming.

Who cares what specific nutrients are contained within fruits and vegetables, and which ones benefit your colon, and which ones benefit your eyesight, and which ones enhance your spleen? Isn’t it sufficient to say that it is rather obvious that a healthy balanced diet consists of natural things, as in food that grows in real soil? Isn’t it obvious that animals that eat healthy food and lead a healthy life provide better meat?

Why do we need research to back up commonsense? Sometimes I wonder about all the money that is going into this “research.” Couldn’t they be studying something more useful . . .  like how to save humanity from itself?

Snippet of Happenings

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Day off yesterday; slept in til 11:30 and then hung out with a buddy and smoked nargilah and drank dark coffee. It came upon us that rather than going out for dinner with girlfriend and her guests as planned and blowing a bunch of cash on some shit that some faceless hairy men in dank back rooms had cooked, that we should cook up a fat meal ourselves, because why not? And because we actually like to cook. Said friend is a cook by profession and I am a cook by fantasy and inclination, if not always by deed. Having recently attended some classes on Indian cookery, I at first thought to conjure an Indian feast, replete with samosas, bread, and curries. However, it seemed a bit daunting and we were unsure as to where to start. So we threw out that idea. But we knew that we wanted something spicy, because spice is necessary and good. Corn seemed to be a necessary component to this spice factor that spring afternoon, which immediately pointed us in the direction of southwestern cookery. So we hopped on our bikes and made the rounds to the local free-range meat market for chicken and a bottle of port, thence onward to the local organic store for fresh vegetables and 100% cacao dark chocolate, then finishing up at the supermarket for residual items such as habaneros, mango, and pineapple.

The meal became evident as items were acquired. A sweat inducing pineapple-mango-habanero salsa with brown rice and black beans. Chicken cooked in a marinade of apple cider vinegar, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, habanero, thyme, rosemary. Red chile tortillas. Ripe avocados. Red wine. Pineapple and mango slices as the womanfolk waited to be served. Conscious r&b, reggae, and hip-hop blazing on the Bose stereo. Small kitchen space and multiple pots and pans simmering and spitting.

The meal was delicious and right on time, just as tummies were grumbling. The red wine was polished off, the dark chocolate passed around, the port sipped and pineapple slices finished. Satisfied, full, and righteous. This is the way that meals are meant to be made. For many people to share, sitting around with some music and some fermented grapes.

I realized just how important such an act is. To be a community, sharing something so simple and revolutionary as food. As communal good times. Feeling good. Riding high off spices and dark chocolate. We could conquer the world. So we collected ourselves and went off to party, drinking too much gin and tonics and dancing because it felt good. Because to shake of the booty is to express and partake of joy and divinity and indefinable beauty. Good times.

Hot and/or Spicy

I wanted to bring to your collective attention a dire misconception which has transpired in the North American lexicon: the words “hot” and “spicy” have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. We use the words completely interchangeably. The problem with this is that to be “spicy” really does not necessarily translate into “hot”—although of course it can (ideally). Spicy, according to Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary, refers to “having the quality, flavor, or fragrance of spice.” Spices vary from nutmeg to cumin, from chile powder to coriander. There’s a lot of spices. And not many of them are hot.

Of course this misconception is understandable, given that our culture was founded by puritans who liked sitting on cold, hard wood seats and flagellating themselves with the sins of humanity. Spices other than black pepper, to such people, must have seemed to be heated with satanic tendencies—making people want to dance, sweat, take off a layer. Spices have never really been incorporated into our cookery, until very, very recently, with the advent of “California cuisine” and then “fusion.” Strange that we ignored Mexican cookery, considering that we stole half of their land from them. It took the popular incorporation of Thai and Indian foods to introduce us to the glory and complexity of varied spice mixtures.

Indian food has been generating complex spice infused concoctions since the BCs. Much of their food is “hot.” Most of it is “spicy.” But let’s get this straight here: you can have a spicy dish without heat. Yes, you can. Would you really want to have a spicy dish without heat? I certainly wouldn’t. But it’s possible.

Being Americans, we aren’t immediately sensitive to this distinction, simply because to use fresh, multiple spices in any given dish is pretty foreign to us. Using sage, rosemary, and thyme is already getting too deep.

I hit upon this topic of blog post when perusing a barbecue sauce bottle that was broken out to dip the bloated ends of our frozen pizza into, lacking ranch dressing. This bottle states that their product is “hot n’ spicy.” And I suddenly realized that most of us would perceive no real distinction between the words. As I began expounding upon the differences, my girlfriend told me that this was a blog post waiting to happen. So here it is. She also had the memorable quote of stating, in reference to the lack of spice awareness on the part of early American colonizers, that North America was “on the slave trade route, not the spice route.”

I’m hoping that it’s not too late to make the distinction between hot n’ spicy. The most fundamental difference that I want to convey here today is that to be simply hot, all it takes is a straight shot of chili peppers. Like “hot” sauce. (Although there can be some good hot sauces that also generate good flavor.) To be spicy implies a level of complexity of flavor. There are depths in mixes of spices that are akin to the depths found in an ecstatic spiritual experience. At least our early Shaker forefathers would have approved, had only they eaten some hot n’ spicy curries instead of had mini-epilepsies all over the church floor. . .

Googly Eyed Over Ghee

I’m taking an Indian cooking class, and it’s pretty fun to make curries and chutneys. I’m realizing how much ghee is involved in Indian cookery. It’s in everything. And it’s damned tasty, and it’s not at all hard to make, and it’s better to cook with than normal butter. So why doesn’t everyone use this stuff? Over my girlfriend’s alarmed objections, I took the pound of butter from our fridge today and promptly boiled up a batch and poured it into a jar. The stuff keeps for at least several months at room temperature. Again, why don’t we all use this shit? I’m sold. Trade in that old butter and upgrade it to ghee! It’s ancient ayurvedic alchemy!

Conscious Food Preparation and Consumption

I just finished a wonderful book a line cook friend of mine loaned to me. It’s called Heat and it’s written about a man’s journeys into discovering what it really takes to prepare food, to know food, from the cutlet to the flame, from the history and tradition to the table. He begins the book quite obviously only with a kind of hobbyist’s interest in his book assignment. But as he becomes part of the kitchen culture, and strives to learn and really understand what he is preparing, his journey takes him from his curious outsider-ness and turns his search within, to discover his own capabilities as a chef.

It begins in the kitchen of Mario Batali‘s Babbo New York restaurant. At first, Buford can’t even cube carrots right, and the first portion of the book consists of harrowing and humorous accounts of a succession of humiliations: as he cuts himself, burns himself, and gets in the way of angry chefs in the testosterone, pressure cooker environment of a busy and small high-end kitchen. Then as he moves deeper into ability as line cook, he also explores Mario Batali’s origins as a star and chef, and he ends up drawing inspiration from Mario’s same mentors—and then ends up plunging yet further.

I found the most intimate parts of the book take place at the end, when Buford’s journey takes him finally to a renowned and passionate butcher in Italy. As someone tilted more to vegetarianism than red meat, at first I was somewhat revolted, but increasingly fascinated, by his accounts of learning to butcher and properly prepare various and unimaginable parts of innards and muscles and unseen mysterious pork and beef cuttings. What I found most compelling is when Buford, now capable of some basic butchering skills, buys a whole pig in a New York local farmer’s market and takes it back to his apartment draped over the back of his scooter. Horrified denizens of the city, despite being mostly meat eaters, of course, flash him disapproving looks and scowls. But he takes it back in the elevator to his apartment and slowly butchers it in sections, garnering a total of 450 servings of food at less than 50 cents a plate. That got me thinking: I’ve heard it repeated many times that it is more economical and requires less waste of resources to be a vegetarian. And I think in our modern culture of supermarket items delivered from across the globe to sit packaged and ready to eat on our shelves, this is generally true. But it isn’t always true. Sometimes, in fact, it makes more economical and ethical sense to be a selective omnivore.

Bill Mollison, in his Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, also makes the case for omnivorism: “Only in home gardens is most of the vegetation edible for people; much of the earth is occupied by inedible vegetation. Deer, rabbits, sheep, and herbivorous fish are very useful to us, in that they convert this otherwise unusable herbage to acceptable human food. . . . If we convert all vegetation to edible species, we assume a human priority that is unsustainable, and must destroy other plants and animals to do so. In the urban western world, vegetarianism relies heavily on grains and grain legumes. Even to cook these foods, we need to use up very large quantities of wood and fossil fuels . . . . Omnivorous diets make the best use of complex natural systems; we should eat from what is edible, at any level.”

Basically saying, in other words, that we should eat from what we have available as an economical, local resource.

Buford’s section on butchering also got me to thinking about the fact that while most people in this country eat meat, they have absolutely no connection to the animal which was butchered for them. They couldn’t even visualize where the section of meat they are eating was taking from, nor would they want to. Which leads me to think that everyone should have to kill and butcher at least one animal in secondary school. Then probably we would be a nation of vegetarians. Because if you can’t handle understanding the meat that you are eating is coming from a slice of a once real living animal, and you can’t handle understanding how it was cut and prepared to be packaged and sitting so nicely sterile for you in the supermarket. . . well, then maybe you shouldn’t be eating it, huh?

I admit to being strangely compelled to want to eat some well-cut raw portions of pork after reading the butchering segment. The intimacy with the meat that a butcher and Tuscan meat lover has is far removed from the so-called American meat lover who thinks he loves meat because he eats hamburgers and steak, and yet doesn’t even know what kind of meat a hamburger is, nor what a real steak would taste like (go to Argentina and eat a steak and then maybe you will know).

I think being vegetarian is the healthiest and generally the most ethical food practice in our culture. But I also don’t think that if you are truly conscious and aware of what you are eating that you should have to be revolted by meat. I think the worst form of eating, in any sense, is to have absolutely no connection with where your food comes from.

Flash Writing for the Astronaut Collective

The Astronaut Collective is a monthly occasion when a theme is presented and anyone who wants to contribute has an hour in which to come up with a piece of work reflecting their spontaneous output of said theme. This is the piece I wrote for the latest A.C. expedition, with the theme of impulse (also found here):

On a whim, Loopy turned off onto a sidestreet he had never ventured down before called Juniper on his walk home from work. It led him to a little Mexican food joint, where they served burritos from a sliding glass window in a faded blue building the size of a trailer home. It was called Super Burrito. It was meant to be. Loopy could smell the refried beans before he could hear the steady fuzzy polka beat of ranchero blaring over the Super Burrito radio.

He ordered the standard Super Burrito, sour cream, cheese, rice, beans, carne asada, lettuce, tomato, salsa. He dabbled hot sauce into the gaping mouth of his gargantuan burrito between every bite, and had the thing demolished within 20 chomps. It was pretty good. The last 1/3 of the burrito consisted largely of grease, but he just couldn’t stop wolfing it down even though he was stuffed. He belched softly into his mouth and then looked around as if newly awakened, noticing a pretty Mexican girl sitting at one of the tables across the fake green turf talking on her cell-phone. He caught her eyes, and knew prospects were good when she looked away and fiddled with her hair and then looked straight back at him while chatting swiftly away in Spanish. Loopy pulled a paper napkin from its tabletop container and carefully wiped the remainder of beef and Cholula from the corners of his mouth. He sauntered up to her and waited for her to put down her cell-phone. She talked for a minute or two longer, watching him, never taking her eyes off of him until she said “Adios” to her friend and flipped it shut.

“Hi,” he said, suddenly laughing at the silliness of the whole thing, unable to find anywhere to begin. Luckily, this loss of poise and purpose broke the ice, and she laughed too. Everything was understood, without speaking. They were young, full of life, and both had eaten phatty burritos within minutes of one another. Suddenly conversation was easy. Loopy sat down at the table and they talked for what seemed like minutes but turned into a half an hour, and the Super Burrito was closing. The Cholulas were collected from tabletops, napkin containers rounded up, the window slid shut. And then Loopy was suddenly unsure, as always, of when and how it should end. Should she be invited out now, or was that too soon? Should he simply settle for an e-mail, or a number, and stroll on back down the way he had come by such happenstance? He sat in silence uncomfortably for a minute, and she relished this, allowing him to wallow just a little bit longer, seeing how true he was, how unguarded his inner workings. He would be more than just a night of drinks. She took his hand and wrote down her number on it and kissed him on the cheek.

He walked back down Juniper stepping sideways every now and then to ease out a Super Burrito fart, excited about his place in the universe, amazed at how some kind of force of god had led him so impulsively to love, to his destiny contained so mundanely in a Mexican burrito stand. And now he must wait, deliciously, until the right moment will come again to proceed to the next unknown pathway to the heart.

Children of Men and Grilled Cheese and Kimchi Sandwiches

I just watched a pretty sweet movie: Children of Men. Yes, I know, it’s a rare event indeed when I actually see a movie in the theatre, but it was just one of those kinds of days. And I just added another reason to the list for not going to the theatres: they turn up the audio way too friggin’ loud. I don’t understand this. Are people progressively going deaf? Last two times I’ve been to the theatre, I’ve had to stuff tissue in my ears so that I’m not cringing throughout the entire movie.

That said, I really liked Children of Men. It took place in the future, except that this imagined future is disturbingly real, disturbingly and eerily relevant to the present. The premise of the movie–revolving around a time when, for reasons unknown, women can no longer bear children–might at first seem far-fetched, but it actually acts as a pointed (but veiled) metaphor for reality now, in that we are actively destroying the future for our children. We’ve lost sight of the importance of human life and continuity, and it is in this continuum of critique that the movie operates so effectively. Every battle scene, every person shot in this movie, feels all too vividly real. The shots of illegal immigrants being detained and forced into refugee camps doesn’t seem outlandish at all. The acts of terrorism, the shoot-outs between the military and dark-skinned people doesn’t seem to take place in the future, but rather to just be a really well shot version of what’s going on in foreign countries at the present.

So put it on your Netflix. In other news from today, I’ve made an important culinary discovery that I think that all of the world should be made privy to: try putting kimchi (preferably spicy) in your grilled cheese sandwhich. Yes, it sounds nasty, but once you taste it, there’s no going back. We’re in a new global century here. We’re movin on from chicken and waffles, and peanut butter and burger, to grilled cheese and kimchi.

As to how I discovered aforementioned combination . . . well, I just like to eat kimchi as a side dish sometimes, cuz I like that shit, and I happened to have a grilled cheese prepared for me, so I plopped some kimchi on the side, and subsequently discovered that it meshed perfectly with the sammich–whereupon I immediately placed said kimchi into the sandwich itself, and was then transported into a new state of grilled cheese chewing bliss.

Bagels n Jazz

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Some more New Yorkian tidbits: when people talk about “crossing over” here, they ain’t talkin about a psychic who can tell you the name of your dead loved one, but rather about going across town, as opposed to up town, or down town. And when they talk about places in the city, it’s always in terms of cross streets. It’s “20th and 1st,” etc. Which makes sense, of course, given the grid system, it’s just not something I’m accustomed to hearing when discussing regional areas of one’s city. In South Lake Tahoe, we just say that it’s either “near the casinos,” or it’s “far from the casinos.”

Went out last night and scoped some avant-garde jazz in a club the size of an armpit. I can always appreciate experimental music, and raw kind of hard-hitting meandering free stuff, but ultimately, if there’s no solid rhythm to it I tend to get a little bored with it, because it just sounds like chaos to me. Which apparently some people are pretty into, given the swirling head-thrashing movements of some of the avant-gardian audience’s heads. It just seemed mostly noisy and pretentious to me, but hey, whatever frees your soul. I was sweating like a pig, and felt a little embarrassed everytime I burped, because we had just consumed mass amounts of Ethiopian food and the spices were bubbling up my mouth throughout the entire show in dense thickets of furnace gas. If you’ve never had Ethiopian cuisine before, it basically consists in shoveling piles of meat and curried sauces into your mouth with your bare hands with some thin spongey bread. Good stuff.

I also went to a couple of bars as well, both of which specialized exclusively in Belgian beers. Which leads me to another I like about this city, which is that there is apparently a niche for everything here. So if you wanted to eat pancakes with alfredo sauce and listen to happy harcore techno while drinking bean curd martinis, then there’s probably a hole-in-the-wall restaurant here somewhere for you.

For breakfast, I ate two fresh bagels with cream cheese and white fish salad. And as I was stuffing my face with this goodness, I was like, why the hell can we not have good bagels on the west coast? My friend told me it be the New York tap water that makes them good. Well, ship that shit out to California, then.

Mas Aventuras en Nueva York

Went out last night to a Spanish tapas bar in Chelsea, and I have to say that tapas may be the future of fine cuisine. Small portions of gourmet shit that you can share with other people and get stuffed on, and sample tons of different foods. It’s like what I love about going out for Chinese and Indian food with amigos–you alway order different shit and then share it. You could do Indian tapas, Mexican tapas, California cuisine tapas, and so forth, and it would be perfect cuz you could just sample tons of different shit instead of having to limit yourself to one dish. Good New York fancy schmancy eating experience, all trendy and shit, with a good wine selection and a militantly fashionable and attractive staff. For dessert, even though we were stuffed, I just had to try the flan de naranja, simply because I love any dessert item coupled with orange. Now, a word firstly on flan. Let’s be honest, flan is generally never that good. You always eat it and then are like, ok, that wasn’t amazing. But there’s always something about it that makes you order again later on down the road. Like, there’s this potentiality in flan to be amazing, it just never quite measures up. But last night, this orange flan was some good shit, I mean, that potentiality of amazingness in flan came to the fore and smacked you in the gizzard. I was stoked that I had made the choice to order it. And I was by that point into my second glass of vino tinto, which for me these days is enough to get me feeling warm, fuzzy, and conversationally inclined.

Then we went to a some random bar to get out of the rain. I had a Glenlivet on the rocks, and we ended up playing pool with a big black dude named Charles who was apparently on a combination of drugs mixed with his alcohol–as in, the dude would try to say something to you, but it would mostly end up coming out as sputtered, laughing nonsense, as if he had taken ecstacy and then snorted cocaine and then drank way too much, and his verbalization abilities were somehow getting shortcircuited. It seemed like he had good intent, so I would just nod my head and smile, and we were all equally horrible at pool, so it made for an interesting pass of time, if weird and somewhat disturbing. When we made our hurried exit, he was trying to get our phone number, but we cheerfully informed him that it would be pointless for us to give him our number because we were only visiting and lived far, far away. “Israel?” he slurred sputteringly. We nodded and ran back out into the rain. Might as well be Mars, given where good ol’ Charles was currently at in headspace. The dude was strangely fashionably attired, though, given his state of fucked-upness. He had a Jets sweatshirt paired with intent to jeans with designer silver spraypaint.

We then made our way to a restaurant that had a bar that served drinks in ginormous goblets, guaranteed to fuck you up to high heaven. I got a strawberry margarita, and every suck you took of this adult slurpee contained enough alcohol to kill a small child, not to mention that there was an extra shot nonchalantly placed into the goblet in a plastic shot tube, like a cinammon stick in a hot chocolate. At the bar, I briefly conversed with one of those dudes who sit at bars by themselves and order drinks and look about them, waiting for the chance conversation or single woman to come by (I have myself been that dude many a time, especially in foreign countries). He was sippin’ on a long island ice tea, and he informed me that it would fuck up a rhinocerous for your money. Having been a student in LA, and thus having learned what drinks to get in expensive bars to maximize fucked-upness with coverage of alcohol taste for less money, I then gave this dude the advice to either try an Adios Motherfucker, which is yet stronger than a Long Island Iced Tea, or for an even stronger drink that is still yet drinkable, a Zombie, which is probably one of the strongest mixed drinks you can get. Have one, and you’re drunk. Have two, and you’re fucked up. Have three, and good luck, unless you’re an elephant.

Then we went to an improv show, the Stepfathers at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. It was only the second improv show that I’ve been to thus far in my existence, and it was pretty funny, especially given that I was quite sauced as this point. It was different then the other improv I’ve seen, in that the comedian-audience interaction was pretty minimal, and I was a little disappointed by that, because what has always interested me about improv was that connection where the comedians are feeding off of audience feedback. But it was still pretty funny and creative nonetheless. I think the lack of audience interaction was mainly due to the audience itself, anyway–the people who spoke up for the word from which the comedians were going to act out scenes based on could only come up with “plane,” and “Fred.”

I have another thing to add to my list of what I like so far about New Yorkers: they all wear dark colors. You don’t see any pinks, yellows, any of that kind of pastel colored crap that Americans have an embarassing tendency to wear.

Blurb for the Cookbook of the Century

[ by erik uzureau ]
Avant-garde, polyglot, american-born chef Ankur Shah establishes an expat “alternative” commune on an island in Bahia, cultural and spiritual heart of Brasil.

Over the course of six months, the hostel “O Bigode” (Portuguese for “the moustache”) became home to a collection of painters, fire-dancers, woodcutters, computer programmers, writers, coctaileros, videographers, and a few shamans-in-training flown and bussed in from throughout the Americas and Europe.

Shah’s weekend restaurant provided unity and direction in the form of coconut polentas, zucchini steak sandwiches, mango salsas, carrot mayonaise, and magical veggie-burgers (to name just a few).

Having survived the Amazon, $1 bottles of cachaça, and a town full of bewildered bahian carnivores, Shah takes to penning his memoirs and recipes somewhere high above the Atlantic Ocean en route to India for his next experiment.

The result is “Cooking Com Bigode“, a hundred-odd pages of intrigue, wisdom, and fabulous recipes straight from the helmsman of the bigode crew. A modern Kerouac of sorts, Shah’s “On the Kitchen”, with grassroots editions published independently in India and New York, bends the traditional recipe book into a deliciously tangential, intensely personal work which will have you smiling and laughing your way from rice and beans to passionfruit hummous and back again.

A wonderful first-effort from internationally-visad, Stanford-educated Shah, “Cooking Com Bigode” is a treatise on holistic, mostly-vegetarian cooking set in the context of a modern day summer of love in tropical Brasil.

The entire text is freely available online in PDF-format, released under the Creative Commons Licence. For those desiring a hardcopy, first-edition prints are available for order via the website.

Vegetarianism Rant

PardoI ate a lot of meat this winter in Peru, and maybe that influenced my thinking (and my colon) a bit. But I’ve been altering my thoughts a little on vegetarianism. Before, I basically considered myself a vegetarian in spirit if not in action. I’ve never rightly been a vegetarian, but I do avoid meat in general and red meat in particular, and the times (winters) when I do not have massive meals prepared and laid out for me and I have to buy and cook food for myself, I do not eat any meat at all. I have always been sympathetic to the cause of vegetarianism, which is, as I see it, a socio-political one. There are many things wrong with our huge agri-business in America, not the least of which is the gross mistreatment and terrible living conditions of the animals being prepared for mass consumption. Then of course the sub-standards of the meat packing industry. I don’t think that eating the meat of highly stressed and overcrowded animals can be healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of linkage between increasing cancer rates and this nasty meat people are eating way too much of.
Anyways, all of that said, this does not mean that I do not enjoy eating well-prepared animals, nor do I object to their slaughter. As I said, I see the cause of vegetarianism as that of a socio-political one–I do not believe that it is wrong to take the life of an animal in order to gain sustenance from it. I love animals and respect them. And as long as the animal that I eat was respected in its life and respected in its killing, than I have no problem in eating it. Unfortunately, there are no kinds of guarantees on packaging which states that an animal was cared well for and lived a fairly healthy life and was slaughtered humanely and with respect. Simply because an animal was “free range” or “grass fed” does not mean it was treated with respect, although its meat will certainly be of higher quality than that of animals fed crap and stuffed into cages. Maybe we could have a designated official who puts a “kosher” type marking on respected and healthy meat packaging.
But here is the thing. I work and live and eat at a place which prepares a substantial amount of food for its guests and staff. This includes, of course, a lot of meat. And this meat will be there whether or not I choose to eat it. One beneficial cause I attribute to vegetarianism is that it does have an eventual effect on the meat market, because the less there is a demand for meat, the less it will be produced. But when it is already cooked and laid out for you. . .exactly what good does it do to avoid it, other than ensuring that it isn’t clogging your colon? In moderation, anything is ok. And this applies to meat, even disrespected and agri-business enslaved meat.
So basically, my beef is this: there’s vegetarians and vegans out there who act like they’re committing some kind of religious infraction (I’m not referring to those for whom it IS a religious infraction) by putting a tiny morsel of meat in their mouths, let alone eating vegetables or rice cooked alongside meat. These animals–they gave their LIVES to sit on your plate. So show them and the person who cooked it for you some respect. Eat it with respect. Give a prayer or some token of appreciation for the animal that gave its life so that you could enjoy it. Burp appreciatively.
I think the biggest problem with people is not that we eat too much meat. The problem is that we eat without any consciousness or concern for what we are eating, no matter what it happens to be. There are vegetarians who show no level of awareness of the crap they are putting into their body. Meat, veggies, cheese, whatever–it needs to be prepared with love and consciousness. It needs to be chewed well with love and consciousness.
And here’s another thing: I’m sick of hardcore vegans who make a big deal about how much they care for the well-being of animals, and then turn around and are abusive and angry towards other human beings. If you really have compassion for animals, then you should be able to have compassion for all that lives. I’m tired of vegetarians who act like they are better human beings because they choose not to eat meat, like they’re all self-righteous because they are abstaining from what the majority of people partake in. vegetarianism, done consciously, I support. But I do not support fanaticism of any kind, and frankly, I think there are way too many fanatic, obsessive vegetarians out there. It’s healthier to be a selective omnivore, in my opinion. It’s healthier to be able to appreciate anything and everything that might be prepared for you. A vegetarian, for me, becomes fanatical when they are in a stranger’s domicile, and they are given a home cooked meal that consists of meat–and they refuse to eat it. Hey, just suck it up and eat it. ONE MEAL of meat is not going to kill you. It is not lessening your cherished ideals. It is returning the hospitality and love which a stranger has given to you.

Back in the Rubber Boom Town

back-in-the-rubber-boom-town.jpgback-in-the-rubber-boom-town2.jpg

In the jungle, during the night (well, all the time, actually, but it’s more prominent in the night-time) the insects weave patterns and textures of sound so sinuous, repetitive, and geometric that it’s almost visible to the eye, these frequencies crafted of the wing. The air is so dank it’s hard to breathe, and you feel as if you are in the midst of a dream as you walk through the dense growth of neon green trees ripe with bananas, anonas, pijuayos. Apparently I have sangre dulce (sweet blood), because I was needled into by so many mosquitos that my feet look like they’ve broken out in hives and my arms look like the tracked up veins of a junkie. Of course, this is what occurs when you are not from the jungle and you do not slobber on repellent. Yes, I elected to forgo the repellent, mainly because the one time I did try putting it on it had no effect whatsoever, probably because I sweat it right back off. I figured that I needed to put these anti-malarial pills to work anyway, and the bites aren’t so terrible as long as you don’t scratch them (impossible, unfortunately, with the feet, which are rubbed constantly by my sandals as I walk). So at the lodge I stayed at, I basically laid around in my hammock sweating and eating different jungle fruits while watching mosquitos draw pints from my blood like it was happy hour.
Some new vocab for ya: Caimito–a yellow/green fruit with very sweet, refreshing, and extremely sticky fruit. After you eat it, your fingers and your lips almost stick together. Mamey–actually a pomerosa, but called Mamey anyway, this tree bears these shockingly pink spinal flores that scatter in a heap beneath it, providing a stark and beautiful contrast with its green surroundings. Maracuya–another fruit, somewhat like my beloved granadilla–I tried some of its juice, very refreshing on a hot sunny day en la selva. Anona–green in appearance until it is ripe, when it turns slightly yellow, this fruit looks exotic with little tendril hooks curling from its rubber-like surface, and it tastes like pudding. In fact, the taste and texture and seeds of the fruit of the anona is very similar to that of the chirimoya, another of my favorites. I ate like 10 of these things while at the albergue. It’s like dessert. Mata-mata–a prehistoric jungle turtle, it’s head looks like a hammerhead shark and it’s got a very long neck. Pijuayo–a tree growing in the jungle that bears two wonderful gifts–chonta–the heart of its trunk–is delicious and served commonly in salads with limòn and salt, and it’s fruits–also called pijuayos–are like little tiny sweet potatoes ready to eat–you pry them open and then dab a little cocona salsa on them. Tasty.
Like I said, this place is paradise as far as I’m concerned. Now that I’ve made a few friends I’m going to stick it out for another 5 days, giving me only 3 days more in Lima before I head back home.

Revving the Engines

Escaleras

Today I ate tons of food, not exactly purposefully, the chicas took me to probar adobo and I didn’t realize it would be a whole nother meal after I already had lunch, and then I got hungry again later at a disco, so today I have eaten a total of 4 phatty meals, but I suppose that it is for the best since I will eat nothing mañana. I learned some great phrases from my spanish teacher today, such as “¡andate a la mierda!” (fuck off–or more literally, walk yourself to the shit), and “tetas” (titties). I took a salsa lesson today, it was pretty basic but how much can you learn in an hour anyway? The chicas took me to a nice disco with mostly latina musica, and I will most likely return there after this message for some musica de salsa en vivo and to practice my few little basic steps. I don’t feel all that bad about my dancing abilities because a lot of Peruvians also don’t know much more than I do when it comes to fancy salsa moves. It’s perfectly acceptable to dance by yourself and just shake your ass around to it. It’s really damn hard not being able to drink anything. Saturday, despues my spiritual adventures tomorrow, will be the grand fiesta para mi, I will drink and dance my ass off, and most likely head my ass straight on back to Lima on Sunday. The time has definitively come for me to leave, as much as I love the rain every single damn day. I’ve got to get my ass into some new places before I get settled down and have kids.

In Limbo

FriendsPasteles

I got up today and went and got a massage for my tired limbs. Less than 20 bucks. They cost like 70 or 80 bucks in the states. I am trying to decide today where to go next. Either La Paz, or the jungle near Cuzco–Manu, Puerto Maldonado–or back to Lima and then to Iquitos. We’ll see. I’m going to give myself a few days to put my finger in the air and test which way the wind is blowing. I’m a bit tired of the Qosqo scene, the constant stranger on the street’s “amigo” this, “amigo” that, but I do know that I would miss what I do have here. I’m going to take some more private classes for Español, except this time it is the much more reasonable 10 soles per hour instead of 8 dollars like it was last time, and the lady will come to my hostal for my lessons. I went into some “shaman” shop today to find out about imbibing ayahuasca, but they quoted me 60 bucks for a ceremony. I know that for locals it’s something like less than 10 soles, so I peaced out on that one. I guess I’ll have to do without hallucinogenic substances for this journey.
This afternoon I met up with Danitza and Julie and they took me out to Saylla where we were going to visit Tipon, but it began dumping rain, so we ducked into a chicharronería instead, where they serve chicharròn de cerdo, a dish very typical of Cusco. Chicharròn de cerdo is basically fried pork, but as is always with the meat dishes here, the taste is different than in the states (almost always better, truth be told). One thing about Peruvìan food that is interesting is that a lot of their dishes are without any kind of sauce, except for dishes like Ajì de Gallìna or Papa a la Huancaìna. This always kinds of disconcerts me, because I’m definitely a sauce kind of man, I like to have something to dip my greasy food items into, I like to hold a bottle of something in my hand and splatter it all over my food as I am eating. I guess it makes me feel like I’ve got my own personal input into my food. I love hot sauce, let it be known, I put that shit all over all of my food. I feel like I’m making it better, enhancing the food. This is why I hold a special place in my heart for burritos, because after every bite you are given the chance to dunk into it some more hot sauce and salsa. Here I can’t really enjoy that kind of eating experience often. They have a kind of sauce made from ajì, Peruvian chiles, but it really isn’t that spicy, and the sauce is generally kind of weird tasting and detracts from the food rather than adding to it, although I still of course continue to dunk each papa frita into it as a matter of course.
I also tried some pasteles tonight after we returned. I tried conito (a cone shaped pastry with chocolate filling), lengua de suegra (which means “tongue of mother-in-law”, so called I think not because of it’s sweetness but because of it’s length), alfajo (like a giant cookie with sweetness in the middle), and a pye de manzana (apple pie). I have to say I’m not so impressed with these pasteles. Seth, you could kick all of these pastries’ asses with your hands tied behind your back. They’re for the most part just kind of flaky things that get your hands and pants all messy. Tomorrow wait for the update on the tortas, I’ll get my hands on a few different cakes and give them a test run.
Anteayer with Danitza and the Uruguaynos, Nacho and Mary, I tried a few new fruits, as well as enjoyed some more granadillas. We tried tumbos, which are these little football shaped fruits that contain tons of orange colored seeds that you suckle upon and taste kind of like mandarinas. We couldn’t find any more chirimoyas, since it is not their season, but we found something similar, albeit much larger, called Guanabana, which unlike its much tastier counterpart was chewy and kind of weird tasting, although it was kind of interesting. Yo probè un Pomelo, cual es igual de “grapefruit,” yo pienso. Also a Pepino, which is a kind of melon except lacking in any kind of flavor. Capulis were pretty good, they looked like cherries but didn’t have that kind of sharp cherry taste. Today I also tried ciruelos, which are like little miniature plums, which of course I liked because I love me my plums, yo.

Las Frutas de Vida

Granadilla

It’s going to be a good new year, I can feel it in me bones, which are ready for some jaggling.
To chew and spit the coca leaves is referred to as chacchar in Quechua. Alternatively, there’s a darker substance made with maìze and coca called llicta that is also chewed and that is referred to as picchar, although the two chewing terms are interchangeable. I have taken a liking to chacchar, it does give you a little bit of a kick and kind of tingles the tongue.
I tried two new frutas today, granadilla and chirimoya. The granadilla was pretty trippy. It looks like an orange but when you crack open the outer peel contained therein is some kind of seedy gloop that looks and feels like alien sex nectar. I was chewing it and my Peruvian friend was laughing at me. Apparently you are supposed to swallow the gloop whole, seeds and all. It was actually kind of a sensual experience because you either slurp it up with your tongue or suck it out of the rind.
The chirimoya was also good. It is green and kind of misshapen, and the treasure within is a kind of custardy white filling dotted with large black seeds. ¡Que rico!