Sunday, 6 March 2016

Confusion, but it's Fun.

Lemon and cereal rambles.
First it was called 'Agua de caña', then it became 'Limonada del rancho', morphing into ' Agrapa' somewhere around Medellin and now it's disappeared. An 'jugos naturales' or at least one of the many offerings of 'natural juices: a non-alcoholic cordial made from sugar cane. Not to be confused with 'aguardiente', the distilled cane juice version, whose major selling point is that it's diet-sensitive: it's sugar free. Confusions, but it's fun.
You think you've got it all sussed, you want to sound normal, even if you can't look it. When asked as to your drink preference, you assume you've asked correctly, only to get a vague confusion. You've moved further along the road; time to figure the next new terminology. Not that it ever tasted of lemonade, more 'barley-sugar'. Not that 'barley-sugar ever tasted of barley. It's served with lashings of whole ice and a dash of lime: 'lima', little green lemons. Confusion, but it's fun.
Killer breakfast: fried egg in a deep fried arepa!
Walking up one aisle of the store, I find a selection of healthy milk drinks that are flavoured with another cereal; this time it's oats. Not that I can taste them, the sugar content is significant, enough to overpower the health. Which leaves the two major cereals of the Americas: rice and maize. We wander along the street, considering the options for an evening meal. Anything that isn't an 'asado', meat and rice, will be highly considered, simply for its near-uniqueness. There on the corner is an 'areparia', that claims 'comidas rapida'. Maize based fast-food that's not quick, as it's cooked from fresh.
Arepas are Columbia. They come in many styles and sizes. Our first encounter had been interesting. A flattened, unnaturally white toasted disc, the size of a hockey puck, was the solitary addition to the generic plate of rice and meat. It lacked taste, actually it was utterly tasteless and could easily have been substituted for styrofoam packaging. Subsequent encounters suggested that it was the authentic specimen but salt was a necessary condiment, or at least the accompanying food should always be heavily seasoned. Be that a fried egg, boiled cheese or on this occasion, minced beef in a corn bread envelope. The descriptive: 'rapida' probably referred to the fact that it was deep fried. Served on this occasion with 'mora de leche': milk based bramble juice. The quantity might look like a snack, but it's a meal, good filling cyclist's tucker.
Hot-dog guava.
With our arrival in 'arepa-land', there has been the demise of the 'chipa' and all it's variant names. Maize has displaced manioc flour. Still there is the selection of croissant-style confections, mostly constructed using margarine, despite their buttery claims. Many are filled, sometimes with ham or cheese, or not at all. The Forager emerges from one shop with a scowling face and clutching a paper bag. She'd enquired as to what the filling was and received a very brusque: "pan!". "Well, yes.....I suppose bread will be in bread". The panmonger then proceeds to attempt to offload yesterday's stale loaves on the ignorant gringa. The scowling face mutters: "two-headed town". Our private-speak to describe the assistant who's prematurely decided that she won't be able to understand the foreigner and as a consequence doesn't listen. One of the bag's contents had been described as containing 'chicharron'. Up until now this had been pig skin boiled in salted fat until saturated, then allowed to dry, generally served with 'mote': unsalted white corn. In other words, it's a savoury dish. Only this flaked pastry had what looked like a sausage through its middle and a dusting of sugar on the outside. The salt-sweet combination is not uncommon, so I wouldn't have been surprised. However, it's all sweet, the sausage transpires to be guava paste. Confusion, but it's fun.
Sancocho and limonada
There are other local variants on foods that we've met before: empanadas: meat pasties, now without the surprise stoned olive. Bunueños: deep fried dough balls, now without the depth-charged egg. Churros: baked dough, now without the gloopy chocolate sauce. Yet one, not unsurprisingly, has now become ubiquitous. Occasionally in Bolivia we'd find one hiding under a rice mountain: plantain. Here, they can come as slices for soft crisps, baked flat for crispbreads, out of a poke for salted crisps. But the best is 'sancocho', boiled lumps in a soup. A bowl that comes with the addition of yuca and potatoes floating in a choice of hen, fish or cow broth. Take the main meal option and a side of avocado, salad and the inevitable rice is served. Four doses of carbohydrates and a modicum of healthy, all in one bowl. Muddled confusion, but it's fun.
With our descent to the hot and humid Caribe flats, we start the day at first light, getting going on a fix of coffee and granola. We ride hard, trying to cover the maximum amount of ground before the heat reaches uncomfortable, before we're driven to finding a darkened room and air-con. Somewhere along that road the inevitable occurs. A lidded roof decked with palm fronds and set in deep shade drags us off the road. The array of truckers' semis outside it's best advertisement. Time for second breakfast. A menu might possibly be pegged up on the wall; ignore it, it's always irrelevant. A list of offerings will be rattled forth. Ignore again, I'm never sure that it's not last night's rehashed dinner. We work to our own set menu. "Scrambled eggs with tomato and onion, arepa, cheese and chocolate, por favor". The chef isn't offended by our presumptions, all he wants to know, apart from the usual "de donde son?", is "rice?". It's the same order I hear everybody else make; which is how I came on a new combination. I watch our neighbouring trucker break salty boiled cheese into his bowl of hot chocolate. A culinary confusion, but it's fun.
Only now that we've reached the north coast and the Caribe, that hot-chocolate has been replaced by 'tinto'. Red wine you think, you'd be right in every other Latin speaking country, but not in Colombia. 'Tinto' is black, sweet coffee. And yet, if you got it wrong, would it really matter? An indecisive confusion, but it's fun.