Thursday, August 4, 2011

I swear to God, good food could lead to world peace. A case study:

Meet Ginsey. Besides being awesome and wicked smart, she shares my love for cooking. As all good cooks, she learned to cook from her mom, who in her case is from India, Meaning, Ginsey makes bomb Indian food.

Now, I know nothing about Indian food. I didn’t even think I liked Indian food, but Ginsey assured me that I did. (We’re becoming close friends. You know, the kind that make those sorts of decisions for each other.) So with a generous donation via care package from Mama and Papa Ginsey, her and I decide to plan a dinner for all our friends.

A dinner we originally thought would be for about 10 people quickly grew to 25, since our host families wanted in on this too. I think they just thought it odd that we could actually take care of something ourselves. We were pretty helpless when we got here and it’s been an uphill battle changing their minds since. I assumed the roll of sous chef, or as Gordy would say, Kitchen Bitch. I de-boned a gazillion chickens; peeled and chopped a quadrillion cucumbers; and all was well until I diced enough onions to make something big look small. (I couldn’t think of a good analogy. Recommendations are welcomed.) This was all done with one of the world’s dullest knives. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of law in Paraguay but I have yet to find a knife that isn’t approaching PlaySkool levels of dullness.

Ginsey took care of the real cooking. Although, I don’t totally recognize what she did as cooking. It was more like alchemy. She claims to start with a recipe but from there she conducts magic over her cauldron like a witches brew. Adding some of this, adding some of that, constantly tasting, and patiently getting through the phase where it doesn’t taste so good. Ok, maybe not patiently, she freaked out pretty hard during the “scary part.” Apparently that’s part of the process. Momentary melt downs aside, it was very impressive to watch her work. With each taste she knew exactly what element needed to added or balanced out, and she whittled her way to exactly what she wanted, not totally sure what she had done.

So with 2 huge pots of Chicken Tika, and enough rice to feed a good part of China, we sat down with our friends and family to break bread. Ginsey and I were nervous if people would like it, but quickly all worries were put aside. As the food was passed around the table, a silence came over the group. You know food is good when all you can hear is forks. Cue awesome night.

We stuffed our faces. We drank decent booze. We spoke three languages, and we told dirty jokes in all of them. There are few more loved traditions in Paraguay than telling inappropriate jokes, and making fun of people similarly. At one point the joke was that we were eating Tembo’i, which sounds remarkably close to tembi’u. (Tembi’u means Food in Guarani. Tembo’i means Small Penis. It’s a easy mistake to make and one that gets taken advantage of.) This joke went on for a long time, and was being lead by the women in attendance. These four middle aged women had every American in ear shot falling out of their chairs with laughter and blushing with embarrassment. I was literally hiding my face and covering my ears un able to take the discomfort anymore. Thus making it all the funnier.

I would like to take moment to commend our Paraguayan friends for trying Ginsey’s food. All of them were eager to try something new, even though spice and spices are not popular here. They enjoyed it as much as the rest of us, especially the non-hot version we made them. Throughout the night people would regularly get up and refill their plates until there was talk of taking turns licking the serving bowls. Ginsey and I looked at each other with pride and decided this was a really good decision. Four hours of cooking suddenly felt like nothing. It was incredible to look around the table and see what fantastic friends we had made.

In a lot of way we had just begin to hit our stride here in Ita. These first months while in training have been trying. The struggles were many and diverse, but the people I have met here have been nothing short of remarkable. Our group has become like a family, and to think I won’t see them every day starting next week is, well, sad. Not to mention, how much we appreciate our host families. They can only be described as generous and hospitable. Let’s add crazy to that too.

Saturday night was one of those perfect nights where that magical blend of good food and good people came together to make something meaningful and memorable. It’s hard to underestimate how much culture affects us, but there are some universals in this world. Sharing food as a way of sharing part of yourself is one of them. (I’m such a poor man’s Anthony Bourdain. Like a really poor man.)