Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Place to Eat

I imagine one of the better ways for you to understand my eating situation (which is really important to me because food is very important to me), is to see the kitchen I eat in.

Because I live at the offices, it’s generally only adults that eat here and Eva cooks for us six days a week. I’ve come to love chayote with queso (it’s a vegetable kind of like a seedless zuchinni), tamarind refresco (juice flavored with tamarind) and fried plantains (basically a French fry).

We cook with gas and only have stove tops, so there’s no baking in this kitchen, but there is lots of frying! Generally, more is considered better and so you can never be cooking with enough oil. Fortunately for me, Eva doesn’t always cook like that.

Sometimes when there is a large group, or not enough gas, the beans will go outside to cook over a wood fire. It’s not that common, so sometimes the wood is a little wet and they throw diesel on it to get the fire going.

Pinto Gallo roasting on an open fire

Eva cooks dinner immediately after lunch and then leaves in the afternoon when she’s finished. Because refrigeration isn’t strongly integrated into the culture, the food sits out for several hours (with lids tightly closed) before we have dinner around 7.

This is one of the reasons it’s so important that the food is completely fresh. If the food is even a couple days old, no one will eat it. In the States, it was no big deal to take two day old leftovers out of the fridge, microwave it and have it for a quick dinner. Here, even if you immediately refrigerate the leftovers, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have several hours (or days) previous at ambient temperature to develop bacteria. So instead of keeping foods at safe temperatures before and after cooking (because you never know what the person who had the food before you did), the culture is simply to eat it as soon as you have it.

Generally, they won’t put their utensils on the tabletop, they cover their cups with their tortilla to keep off the flies and they’d rather lift meat to their mouth and take it off the bones with their teeth instead of with their fingers. These new hygiene rules I’ve learned simply by watching, they’re definitely an unconscious part of the culture.

I’ve had a great time trying so many new things, especially fruits and vegetables (but no noni please!). After this week in Bolivia with their foods, I’ve realized I’ve become so accustomed to it over the past few months, even I’m looking forward to having rice and pinto gallo beans when I get back!

The Kitchen

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