Saturday, April 28, 2012

A good meal, A good day.

*NOTE: I've received negative feedback in regards to this post. I would like to clarify that this is not meant to suggest that the food culture of the US is superior other than it is the food I grew up with. Food is a matter of taste and the food here isn't necessarily to mine. I don't shy away from the words that follow, but please know that I respect that Paraguayans love their food and may dislike mine. I have posted the negative feed back and my response in the comments section. I think it best illustrates the legitimate gripes with this posts, and maybe fills in some of the gaps I left out when writing the following.*

I often complain about Paraguayan food. It's not my favorite food culture in the world. To be honest, no matter the culture, unless Jamon Serrano is a staple in the diet, it's not my favorite.
Eaten at every meal.
A weird diet, heavily centered on meat and starch, I find Paraguayan food bland and greasy.  Chipa guazu and Sopa Paraguaya are the primary traditional breads. They're the same fucking thing! And who the hell calls bread "Paraguayan soup?" They have soup here. It contains giant hunks of meat that you must gnaw at, because cutting tough meat inside a bowl of soup is really fucking difficult. Also, the pasta is gummy, and how one can love mandioca as dearly as Paraguayans do is beside me.  And then there was the whole pig nose incident, among other offenses.
Chipa Guazu, I think

Sopa Paraguaya, Maybe

 Yet we return to that recurring theme in my Peace Corps Service. Just when I think I can't take it any more, Paraguay throws me a bone.

Today, a trip to the neighbors yielded me this precious bounty of fruit picked straight from their yard.
That avocado is the size of my face! Can you imagine anything more wonderful? You doubt? That's a grapefruit next to it, not an orange. Seriously. I have absolutely no idea what what that pointy fruit is, but it was delicious even with its mucus-y texture. 

Tonight, I feast. After a few too many meals dominated by rice, I take my ENORMOUS avocado, add a little juice from those fresh picked lemons, a tomato and onion and it's guacamole night. (No guacamole isn't a Paraguayan food. More on that later.)

While eating straight guacamole would not be the least healthy, nor least delicious meal I've eaten here in Paraguay, I made up some lentils and tortillas, and proceeded to stuff my face. It looked something like this:

This is not the first, nor the last time I've been humbled by Paraguay. Right as I'm about to collapse in a heap of frustration from the daily battles of being a stranger in a strange place, Paraguay, its culture, and its people always seem to show me the way. I will never love the food in Paraguay, but how awesome is the normalcy of having several different fruit trees in your yard? They never sell avocado here, because no one would buy it. Why would you, when you can walk down the street and get it for free from your neighbors?

While my own attempts to start a vegetable garden got waylaid by a two week vacation during the worst drought in decades, I love that during the right season I can have incredibly fresh food at my finger tips. My host family literally is begging me to take avocados off there hands. There is simply too much to go around. And as any good Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm  here to help. ;-)

So while tonight's dinner did not lead to some revelation in the wonders of Paraguayan cooking, my spirits are lifted, and I live to fight another day.

I must say, one of my favorite parts of guacamole in Paraguay is serving guacamole to Paraguayans. Here avocado is to be served with milk and sugar. It's good, but clearly we all know that avocado was intended by God and Nature to go on sandwiches. So to make up some guac, or even suggest that avocado is to be eaten in a savory way, with salt no less, is absolutely mind blowing. Paraguayans don't often experiment with food. Certain foods are savory. Others are sweet, and there is no mixing those categories. I blame this lack of experimentation combined with generations of isolation to be at fault for such a narrow view of food here. It really is a shame, because there is so much good stuff to work with.

I don't hate all Paraguayan food. It's almost San Juan season, and that means Mbeju and cocido. They are my favorite Paraguayan treats, and there is nothing better as we enter winter. I know that you have no idea what those are, or maybe even how to say them, but I'll make sure to show you. They are just too delicious to miss out.

So don't worry Dad, I'm eating just fine. Although you are always welcome to send me a little a something.