Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It Wouldn't Be a Travel Blog Without a Post on Street Food.

Street Art in Asuncion.
I was in Asuncion for about 24 hours this weekend. I was running a couple errands but I found myself free on sunday afternoon. I walked around and as I got hungry I indulged in the culinary epic-ness of, and world traveler badge of honor, the a street side food stand.

As all savvy travelers know, street food is where it’s at. Every stand is someone’s grandma working the wok, or some guy who is a master at what he does, but chooses not to pursue culinary greatness for the humble pride of his truck stand. At least it will be something so bizarre that it’s strangely delicious. I’ve read a million blog posts touting the superiority of street food, and how eating it makes you a better person. It shows that you actually care about the people whose home you’re invading. Rather than using their foreignness to make you feel better about your own vapid life. If memory serves me correct, somewhere it mentioned that eating street food proves you have a soul and guarantees you access to heaven. I had solid advice and I was gonna take it.

Plaza Uruguaya where I ate my lunch. Yes, that's a tent city.
I wander upon a plaza in downtown Asuncion and decide to get me a hamburger at the cart on the corner. It sets me back 5,000 Gs, which is a little over a dollar. It‘s sunday, so there’s not a lot open anyways. This is my best bet. Surprised to see the grill man actually grab a not pre-cooked patty land on the grill and a fresh egg cracked to top it off, this looks like the makings of a good street food experience. The burger is topped off with the usual and wrapped up to go for me. A coke to accompany and I was set.

Famished, I open my little package and shovel the burger into my face. As the pangs of hunger begin to wear off, I suddenly realize that something is very off. The patty is rubbery and certainly not juicy, but it’s not dry either. It’s watery? While I start to think about what I am actually tasting, I take a look at my patty. Cooked beef is not this color. Raw beef is not this color. This is not beef. This did not come from one of God’s creatures. If there was any meat, it was just enough to bind together the rehydrated soy stuff known as “carne de soja,” essentially dried out soy paste that some people like to pretend tastes just like meat. Usually these people are called vegetarians and have no soul. On this unfortunate occasion it’s my amigo with the stand trying to increase his profit margins because Paraguayans don’t tolerate price increases.
That's not meat.

Honestly, I should have known better. Meat is expensive here and 5,000 Gs is cheap no matter how little overhead you’re woking with. But let’s be realistic here blogosphere, cheap food is often cheap for a reason. That maybe someone’s grandma working the wok, but she’s also a business women, and apparently with grandchildren to feed.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad. Ok, it was that bad. It was awful, but there was lettuce and tomato, not to mention the egg, a standard on Paraguayan burgers. This burger sucked but the cheese didn’t smell like cow, and that’s a first in months. Plus, I can pretend this affront to God and all things holy was healthy. I didn’t stuff myself with a hamburger. I ate a veggie burger!

But the friendly blogger people told me food stands always had great hidden gems. That was how a true traveler was supposed to sustain themselves. What am I to do now? I know, the truth is hard to accept.

I am not saying to avoid street food. Food carts are awesome. They do have hidden gems, and unexpected awesomeness. However, the newly minted street food travel snob needs to back the fuck off. I know you’re all Anthony Bourdain disciples as well, but I’ve read too many articles and blog posts that scoff at the idea of restaurants, claiming street food is the only way to know a people and it’s culture and just as good as anything in a restaurant. We’ll get back to that part about “knowing a people and their culture” in another post,  but in regards to street food, sometimes it sucks. It’s cheap. It’s fast. What do you expect? You never know what you’re gonna get, but that's all part of the adventure. Maybe that’s what makes the good stuff that much better.