Thursday, January 13, 2011

Comida Chapina

For lack of ganas (urge, desire, aspiration) and a sense of obligation (it’s a personal goal of mine to post on a regular basis), I figured I’d fall back on a reliable topic: food. Here’s what I ate for breakfast today.

You’re looking at a plate of black beans, rice, tomato-puree sauce and flank beefsteak, which comes with a stack of freshly toasted tortillas, instant coffee and homemade picante (salsa). There are plenty of napkins and the tablecloth is cheery.

First off – I really like this food. Second – I eat it quite often.

I go to the same comedor (diner) for all my meals, usually breakfast, lunch and dinner but not always. Sometimes I’m just not hungry – Doña (Mrs.) Terry and her employees give me lots of food, and sometimes I’ll leave lunch feeling stuffed and won’t need to eat a solid meal until 8:00 the next morning.

Other times, random people will invite me to eat with them – fried chicken and macaroni salad at their dinner table, ramen noodles and tortillas in the back of their grocery store or a mug of instant coffee and pan dulce (sweetbread) right out in the street. Other times I’ll leave town for a couple of days, get some R&R with Peace Corps friends in the bigger cities and eat stuff like Indian food, bagels, real coffee and falafel.

When I’m in my site, however, it’s usually what you see above or a slight variation. It would be safe for me to say that every day, I eat two of the following three dishes:

Fried chicken/beans/rice/tortillas/instant coffee (or kool-aid)
Steak/beans/rice/tortillas/instant coffee (or kool-aid)
Fried eggs/beans/rice/tortillas/instant coffee (or kool-aid)

There are a few nuances within these options….

Fried chicken or steak, for example, could be for any meal. Eggs, however, are usually only found in the morning (or at night, if you show up at the comedor after 7:30 and the food has run out and they throw a plate together for you, usually with little hot dogs sliced in half lengthwise and fried)

You’re pretty much guaranteed to get an animal protein every meal. However, sometimes it’ll come with beans and no rice. Other times it’s rice and no beans. Personally I like getting both and I’ll ask for it sometimes– what’s cool is that there’s no charge for a spoonful of extra beans if you happen to be especially hungry)

Some other things to think about:

The fried chicken is breaded with a mixture of instant soup bouillon and salt. Whoa.

Don’t ask for coffee at lunch – that’s crazy (it’s too hot to drink coffee at 1:00)

You can always ask for more tortillas – just make the noise that sounds like you’re shooing a cat outside to get your Seño(ra)’s attention, and she’ll bring you a new stack hot off the woodstove top.

If you’re Guatemalan, roll your tortillas up and alternate bites of food with bites of tortilla. Eat the meat with your hands, at the end, mouthful by mouthful. Meanwhile, I get funny looks for requesting a knife, cutting my steak into pieces, mixing everything together and loading the tortillas up like a taco.

(I have this suspicion that they think I’m Mexican when I do this.)

You can also ask for water instead of kool-aid or coffee, but the word agua translates roughly to “drinks” and refers to soda, so say agua pura.

Caldo de Mano (translation: hand soup?) is a tripe and fatback soup that Doña Terry likes to prepare, seeing that most Guatemalans are big fans. Meanwhile, I don’t recommend this dish.

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