Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Many Names: One Bread.

There's a certain routine to our returning arrival in BA. Collect cargo and clear the airport, bus into town, walk around the corner and head for the metro. Stop by the first vendor and buy a bag of four. (This is our first opportunity to measure the rate of inflation in our six months of absence.. Once it was five.) Of course they will be consumed long before the train reaches San Isidro and the flat. We know where to find them in Salta, we know that they're a guaranteed fixture to every exit from every roundabout in Paraguay. In Asunsion, the 'chipaeros' jump on and off the still-moving buses, their dexterity with a wide wicker basket a true skill. Yet, beyond these locals they're an elusive treat. And like genuinely seasonal fruit, or a rare alpine plant, they need to be treasured when found.

Chipas. That eponymous Paraguayan bread roll, who's primary constituent is manioc flour. Or Mandioca flour, or Tapioca flour, or Casava flour, or Brazilian Arrowroot flour and now Almidon de Yuca. They're all one and the same plant: Manihot esculenta. To which, certainly in the quality ones, boiled white cheese will have been added. A confection best eaten warm, or at least before midday, when they still have the glutinous chew of a comfort food. Breakfast food. A bread that can stand alone and doesn't require the addition of unguents.

It's been a while, but now those elusive panes have reappeared, not out of a calico covered wide wicker basket balanced on a chipamonger's head, but the hot box of a chip shop. Fast-food. An aside to your 'burger, egg and chips. Or, as we've just discovered in Cuenca, the accompaniment to a frozen yogurt.

It was the Navigator in her forager mode that first spotted them. When it comes to 'Chipa Coursing' she's has the nose of a bloodhound. Which now leaves a problem. Having awakened the chipa taste bud, the search is on. Only fast-food outlets are a city phenomenon, yet verge-side evidence suggests that 'Dominos', 'Subways', KFC et al, exist somewhere, although Ronald and a McChipa are hopefully still a nightmare fantasy away, because that would introduce a truly monumental ethical problem.

The solution has been simple. That provendorial instinct has sourced the necessary raw ingredients. All we now need is a shade tree. Set up the petrol stove and mix up the flour, 'Royal', dried cheese and powdered milk. Season heavily with salt, pepper, nutmeg or what ever else seems appropriate or more likely, what's lurking dead at the bottom of a pannier. And to add a soupçon of fusion cuisine, throw in a handful of oats.

This plethora of local terms used in the construction of our favoured bun, is but one part of the many interests in frontera hopping. Our regimen of eating fare might be similar to Perú, but it's the names that have changed. To the south, our 'tortilla de carne' would be an egg omelette with rationed flecks of meat through it, in Ecuador it's a solid hamburger patty with a fried egg on top. Our palta, the avocado is now an 'aguacata'. Our 'Chifa' fried rice is now a 'Chaulafán', still a volcanic heap that can still erupt if too much chilli is added.

Our Chipas are now called 'Pan de Yucas' that comes in a 'Meal Deal' with frozen fruit yogurt. A rather enticing combination of hot and cold, sweet and salty. I suspect that for the next while we'll be doing a bit of hunting. Maybe not a seasonal food, but a regional one, and as such wil need treasuring.