Category Archives: Food

Get Off the Bus

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons in the US over 65 (officially elderly) has jumped by a factor of 11! in the past decade. We are growing by an average of 2.8 % annually. Well, our numbers are. Personally, I am shrinking faster than that. I have to hurry before I am too short to ride The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. cyclone

Seniors make up the wealthiest niche market in the developed world. As travelers, they are said to want comfort, are cautious, safety oriented, demanding, and complaining. Additionally, they are quick to sue if anything goes awry. It makes sense.

A majority of these seniors live in gated communities, which comprises 10% of the US housing market. According to an article by Rich Benjamin in the New York Times, these communities “attract like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.” In other words they distrust those beyond the pale. However, they have a staggering amount of money to spend, and the tourist market is working overtime to accommodate them.

tourist bus

Daily, buses full of middle class and upscale tourists from around the world clog the narrow streets of ancient cities forcing the residents to wait until they pass. Tourist companies pick and choose shops and restaurants that are ‘perceived safe’ for their clients. They are cautioned not to eat or drink from local street stands, or buy from unapproved merchants. God forbid they should go out alone at night. So, from their sheltered, cushy, climate controlled seats, perched high above the streets, these people observe the surroundings while being informed about it by the guide’s well rehearsed discourse. Later when relating their experiences at cocktail parties, they say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, or those people. It (or they) were charming, or quaint, or poor.”

The tourist industry is attracting like-minded physically secluded, tourists who seek shelter from the very places they tour. It’s crazy.

If you have the slightest inclination to step out a bit, to experience a different culture, or mingle with the locals, you have to get off the bus. Let that be your first adventure.

Adventure by definition means taking a risk, however small. Trust that people around the world are kind and curious. They want to know you, and are eager to share. As Rudyard Kipling said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

Head Cheese, Whole Head, or Sausage: San Pedro Market

During my first trip to San Pedro Market I worked the fringes: the material, jewelry, the easy stuff. Except for the skinned cuy in the basket as I was leaving, I managed to avoid   the meat section. I am a hypocrite. I would be a vegan if I had to kill my food.

Yesterday, I ventured into the meat section of the marcado. The smell made me a little sick. There were piles of a gray substance that appeared to be skin ranging from a few inches to a couple of feet high. I didn’t take a picture.

Beginning with the small critters in the bowl which may or may not be a froggy kind of critter, I was fascinated by the variety and size of heads. I remember my mom’s cousin making head cheese. The pig head bobbing up and down in the pot is a visual memory that has stuck with me lo these many decades.

Yesterday I asked an old woman if the heads she  was selling were alpaca, because even with its fur gone it was recognizable. “Si.” I didn’t ask for a recipe on how to cook it.

 

 

 

Tastes Like Chicken

Uros Island

Uros Island

Sleeping on the Job.

Sleeping on the Job.

Bean cheese. She is grinding them .

Bean cheese. She is grinding them .

The phrase that has circumnavigated the globe. Once I was in a market in Bangkok looking at a dead snake. It was a big snake: maybe four feet long and as thick as my wrist in the middle, or so it seems in my memory. The vendor selling it caught my eye. “It very good. Taste like chicken.”

Recently, oimagen the dock in northern Peru where I was swimming with the torgugas, a fisherman had caught a fairly large manta ray. Its pristine white wings were sort of floating in a metal tub, its head gouged out and in a bucket below. While I was looking at  it Sebastian said, “It tastes like chicken.” I eyed him skeptically. “Yes, Ruby, I’m serious. It’s not like fish at all.”  D

On the tour boat en route to theUros Floating Island a few days ago, the guide was talking about the sea

birds. One species in particular, I don’t remember which, he said was trapped and eaten by th

e tribe. “It is gordo (plump), and tastes very good. LIke chicken.”

Yesterday, here in Cusco, I was in San Pedro Mercado, one of the most fascinating markets I’ve been to. Sitting outside was a woman with a basket on her lap. Sticking out of it were several  skinned guinea pigs orCuy, totally intact except for their fur. “Oh,cuy,”

pescado huevos

pescado huevos

I exclaimed. “Si, cuy.” she said. A couple of English speaking women were standing there. “Have you eaten them?” they asked me.  “Yes. The one I had was missing its head and feet and presented on the plate layed out flat. It was kind of dry and grisley.” The woman who held the basket, looked as us while we talked and seemed to be listening, but I don’t think she understood the conversation. I caught her eye. “Do they taste like chicken?” I asked. She laughed. “Maybe English chicken.” We all laughed. There is nothing more precious than a successful joke across cultures.

So, why do we need to kill snakes, and fish, and sea birds and other species that taste like chicken? Why not just eat chicken?

 

Comida

The day I got here, Alberto, a man I met in Brasil last summer took me to the Pollo King, a local restaurant in the small town of Cajica, north of Bogota for what he said was traditional Colombian comida. While it was being prepared we drank cold Colombian beers. It was a good start.

In a short time, the waiter presented us with a large platter containing a whole, either boiled or steamed, pale, wan chicken, a color maybe indicating the chicken didn’t feel well before it was killed for we want our dead to appear robust, and a few yokes from undeveloped eggs which I’ve discovered are pretty common, but no head or feet, which I was thankful for.

The chicken was served with plantains and yucca, the latter pretty bland on its own, but this was covered with a sticky, savory sauce that made it delicious as gravy or sweet butter does to mashed potatoes. That night and the following morning at his finca, or farm, in the town of San Francisco, we had a variety of fresh fruit and rolls with delicious Colombian coffee.

The next afternoon I ate spinach empanadas at the restaurant inside a large supermarket. The following day for lunch I ordered a very flavorful bowl of soup. The meat I believed to be chicken turned out to be intestines, chewy and for me, difficult to swallow. Although I’m willing to try many things, and have, including well prepared insects,I cant bring myself to eat innards, coagulated blood floating in soup, the muscle behind the eye of any fish, pig snout, or chicken feet. So I’m a pussy.

At Angela’s lovely home we had a hearty and tasty version of tamales with rice and chicken steamed in banana leaves. The Colombian pizza I had a few nights ago had a layer of fresh tomatoes and capers under the cheese. It took me a minute to identify the capers. And, of course the piranha. Today for almuerzo or lunch, which is a set price for either fish, chicken, or beef, rice, cooked banana, a drink and soup, I ordered another fish. It was crispy and a bit too salty and dry for my taste.

Rice, manioc, plantain, and potatoes are the most common starches. Bananas are prepared in ways I never thought of. Yesterday I bought a banana that was split down the center, filled with cheese, and grilled. It cost 2 mil, or about $1.20. I ate a few bites, wasn’t impressed, pulled the cheese out and ate it. I offered the banana to a hungry bitch with swollen nipples that was foraging for food on the street, but she declined my offer.

Here at Entropika we cook our food so since Thomas is Belgian, Luisa Colombian, and me an Irish Mongrel, anything is possible. One of the geogology students at the park that I share the kitchen with ask me last week of I had eaten romalachas. After a couple of rounds of twenty questions, they produced a beet. ” Me gusta romalachas, mucho, I declared enthusiastically. So, inspired by the unrelenting heat, and to the delight of Tomas and Luisa I made cold beet borsht. When I go back to the park next week I’m taking the ingredients, and the students are going to help me make a big pot for everyone. My favorite part of traveling is the sharing of cultures, and what better sharing is there than food which comes from our hearts, our ancestors, our gardens, and gives of ourselves.

There are countless tropical fruits here that I’ve never seen before, much less tasted:Lolo or maybe lulu, Borojo de Monte, Quinilla, Anonilla, Mata Mata, surba, Acapu, Caimitillo…and more. I’ll keep you posted. Bon Appetite.

Food

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” James Beard.

 



Chinese New Year Dinner in LiJiang, China 2012

  



chicken soup



And, chicken soup is said to cure a cold, and good for your soul.

No one would argue that food is necessary to live, and if you have good food, life is infinitely better.

Food brings us together, tempts us, identifies us, frustrates us. Some people get rich off it-others work hard to provide it and still others have to steal basic food  to feed their families.

Roasting chestnuts in Chendu

Gandhi said, There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot apper to them except in the form of bread.”

 
A humble American grandma will say, ‘It isn’t perfect,’ when you praise a dish. 
My mother gave a recipe box filled with her most popular recipes as a wedding gift to brides- an intimate gift of herself. When my son lost his first tooth he asked the tooth fairy to bring him pie. My daughter makes my mother’s pinwheel cookies every Christmas. Students from around the world decorated my grandmothers cookies for Christmas in 2011.
 Our family lives on through food. 

Because of my Irish heritage I salivate just thinking about real Colcannon; mashed potatoes with cream, sauteed cabbage and crispy onions topped with lots of butter and black pepper.

The smell of fresh tomatoes takes me back to my mom’s kitchen in late summer when she labored to can jars of tomatoes, beets, peppers and  vegetable soup-summer in a jar during a snow storm. 

 I can taste her love steeped in the red sauce she taught me to make for  stuffed green peppers or pasta. At a request of a friend in China, I made spaghetti for him and his girl friend. He had thirds and finished off the sauce in the pan with the heel of the french bread I’d bought. “I had spaghetti at an Italian restaurant in Beijing, he said, but yours is better.”  Mom would be so proud.

Food is the highlight of my travel. I can’t describe nearly as much of what I see in museums, as I can the food of a country, and the people I share meals with.

Decorating Christmas cookies at EF International 2011

In Tangier I was admiring the sensual aromas and rich colors of bins of spices when an elderly man came up to me with a flat aluminum pan  full of what looked like cornmeal mush. I said, “No thank you.” A passerby said, You should have some. It’s delicious. He was right.  I ate the baked meal with my fingers, scrapping the small piece of paper it was on to get every grain.

In Fez, Morocco,  I was invited for dinner to the house of a man I met on the train. Actually, I went to Fez because he persuaded me to see the ancient Medina. Fortunately his marriage proposal came after the delicious meal his sisters cooked-so I fled on a full stomach.

Throughout Morocco I devoured roasted camel, and bowls of fava bean soup from street vendors. Come evening I sat alone with  6 to 10 different colored bowls spread out before me, each holding a unique flavor in restaurants for dinner. 

The gracious Thai people think it is sad to eat alone so they don’t let that happen. I’ve had a Thai businessmen join me for lunch to discuss American politics, families invite me to join their table, and even the cook on the island of Ko Semet sat with me after she had cooked my meal. The following day she invited me into her kitchen to observe to learn how to make Thai chili paste -her way. 

In China I cooked traditional American Christmas and
Thanksgiving dinners for twenty plus students, staff and friends on a two burner stove with no oven. It’s amazing what you can do in a wok.


A pot, A Wok. And a bowl=a double boiler!.


Almost every weekday I ate at least one meal at the dining hall. Because all of the meat and vegetables, including fish with bones, are chopped into  one inch pieces it is extremely difficult for a novice like me to determine origin.  It became a game of ‘guess that food.’ resulting on me eating mostly vegetables. The cafeteria workers, though, monitored my intake. One day I was sitting with a student, having lunch when a tiny woman came up to her. “Tell her she isn’t eating enough meat.

On several occasions I was invited to a hot pot restaurant. Hot pot is a cauldron of hot spicy, oil one dips skewers of meat and vegetables into.  It’s not for sensitive palates.

Offered a pig snout from a street vendor, I couldn’t do it- just couldn’t bring myself to bite into a big pig nose.

I laughed as my students read the yellow mustard jar at our traditional American picnic featuring hot dogs. “Is this American mustard. Ruby? I thought mustard was green.”  ” Ah. You are thinking of Japanese wasabi.  Not even close.”

 Eating with people on the road is the sharing of cultures, the acceptance of one another’s differences, the acknowledgement that we are the same. As a stranger, when I’m  invited to dine with a family or new friend in a country where I barely speak the language, I’m humbled and grateful.
When traveling, food is the adventure; everything else comes after. I was 23 when I first flew outside the US mainland to Puerto Rico. My date, an impossibly handsome man, bought us blood sausage from a street vendor. Oh my god, I said. Cooked blood! I can’t possibly eat that! Next came the whole fish with a sunken eye peering at me. “The muscle behind the eye is the best.” he teased. I put a lettuce leaf over it. He ate the eye muscle, I devoured the delicious fish. And then there were fried plantains, squid and pineapple freshly picked. I probably still wouldn’t eat the eye muscle, but the rest-piece of cake!

Last week I took my grand kids, six and nine to an Asian market. “Ooohh. Look at the pigs feet. What is that? It’s a block of congealed blood? Oh gross. What’s an eel? ” Who eats this stuff, the boy said?” “Many people-all over the world, Honey-even in your own neighborhood.”  

Living in Mexico I found myself at the same taco stand, several days a week  eating fresh fish tacos with crunchy cabbage, cilantro and avocado – a balanced meal for a buck fifty.

In Lisbon it was bacalhau -salted cod,  sardines, squid on a stick; in Spain I ate my weight in tapas, washed down with red wine. In one bar the tiny fish bones kept sticking in my throat. Agh. Agh I coughed. Laughing, the bartender and two other patrons urged-mas vino, mas vino.

My family’s staples were potatoes-roasted, mashed, or fried and home baked bread. My southern husband introduced me to rice and grits- my housekeeper/cook to heavenly greens, black eyed peas, chitlins, and corn bread-soul food. Isn’t it all food for the soul.

  In Asia I watched folks work in rice paddies- small and large. I  heard stories about cobras’ weaving among the thick fields, and the cobra hunters who catch them and milk the venom.  I’ve shared  unidentifiable food  on trains, buses and boats with people I knew for an hour or a night.

 In Central America I talked to coffee farmers who pick the berries and spread them out in the sun to dry, and women sitting on the ground surrounded by baskets of vegetables, fruit or a few chickens to sell.

Food is as essential to our souls as to our health.  I agree with J.R.R. Tolkien who said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ”
Indeed.