Thursday, 8 January 2015


"The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like". Mark Twain.

And now I've been asked to make a choice. I don't do choices very well. Mainly because I don't remember my choice for more than a few moments after I've made it. Only this option will have to be remembered for well over a month. We all know the scenario. "Would Sir like the over-amped description of, what essentially boils down to beef or the humanely sourced, fully tracable,...tender a drizzle of....tastes like chicken?". Half an hour later the waiter returns to stand at the end of the table with a selection of plates and you can't remember if you're a vegetarian. When what I really want to hear is "would Sir like to be fed?" There's plenty research papers that demonstrate that a customer presented with twenty-four varieties of jam will take three times as long to make a selection than one with a choice of only five. Such is my predicament. Asian Restaurant Syndrome: Too Much Choice. Need some brain training. Need to create an aide memoir.

Outside the roadside comedor is a chalked-up board offering a set menu for a given price. My type of place. Home cooked from fresh foods. Simplicity. Only this is Chile. Upselling is the norm. You never seem to pay what you expect. We ask for the 'menu del dia', and are told there is a choice of 'mains'. Fine, I'll have the chicken. It's good, those salt-infused chips are great. Now, I expect to pay extra to include the bottle of juice, but still the bill is near treble the advertised offer that's on the outside board. Of course, the hen wasn't part of the deal, just a sleight of hand, a piece of mild duplicity. Did I mention that 'menu' refers to a plate of food, not a piece of paper with prices quoted on it? There rarely is a list and if it's there, then it's likely you're in a touristic establishment. Try again around the corner and up that slightly dodgy vennel. I think of it as 'tourist tax'. Fine for a short while, generally associated with 'gringo trail', and as we are not entirely beholden to guidebook destinations and bus routes, can escape back to local pricing. Back to the 'cazuelo ', the 'all in one plate meal' of boiled beef, pasta, potato, corn, with its mandatory single bean, all in a tasty bree. Generally with a side of two-day-old desiccating bread rolls. Excellent cycling tucker. And when the stop comes at the top of a twenty kilometre descent, there's ample time for digestion before the road inevitably climbs back up again. I like these unpretentious places. They offer a dark, cool respite from the bright glare of an outside for an hour. The soda pop will have come from a fridge, the price will accord to a Scot's pocket. They're easily identified; the vast area of baked sand populated by a selection of international articulated lorries and red mine pick-ups is the best indicator. Probably the sole indicator, for there is rarely a name to indicate a shack's intended purpose.

We're in Arica, the frontier town that lies less than an hour's ride from the Peruvian border. Slumming it in one of the best hostels in South America, or at least one of the best for breakfasts. Which is my standard measuring stick. Procrastinating. Comfortable places keep leaping out and grabbing our attention. That, and we seem to have acquired a two litre carton of Merlot, that can't be drunk in one night. Anyway, there's another New Year coming. Vegetating in a place that comes with that diminishing product....good quality connectivity. To catch up on all the blogging mail, the bills to pay, the purchase of airline tickets and of vital importance; my choice of main course for my nephew and intended's wedding. Fiorella is Peruena and the meal will be Peruvian in character. Only the ingredients will, due to the venue, be Floridian, USA. So no chi harrowed de alpaca, bifi de llama or deep fried guinea pig.

North American chooks are a breed apart. A seven week growing period to produce a carcass with 50% breast meat. The norm is around 17%. In the past, I've sat down to a plate of Tyson's breeding programme, served up with 'grits' and a milk sauce. White, white and white. Less than inspiring. Anyway, our next move is north to Peru, where if I'm not in the local 'Chifa', ordering their 'Aeropuerto', their special fried rice, it will be the 'Broaster' for the best of meal deals: roast chicken and chips. So it won't be the Chicken.

'Mariscos', shellfish. I so wish I could start to like the crustaceans. But they come from a world that never impinged in childhood. The closest was on a hook, bait for deep line fishing in Brodick Bay. For the Navigator, they were once described as tasting of seaside. She was raised on Tyneside in the late 50s. Best not to say what that seaside tasted like. So it won't be the Fish.

Which leaves the third option. Cow. Three months in South American countries, three months worth of sampling slo-gro grass fed beef. It will be interesting to see if there really is the difference between that and the cereal feed-lot product.

Three paragraphs. A long handed way of creating an 'aide memoir'. However I do note that there are no options for dessert. Simple explanation....there is only one Peruvian pudd......'FLAN'.