Of antisocial waiters and unexpected pig bits

Considering how much I love eating, I suppose it was only a matter of time until I submitted to my overwhelming desire to resort to the loved-yet-feared Food Blog Post. Since I expect this to be somewhat of a recurring theme over here in arepa-land, I’ll keep this contained to some specific foods, instead of trying to write about All Of The Foods. Also because if I write too much more about food, it’s going to make me hungry again, and I am pretty much out of food in my kitchen and entirely unwilling to dash to the grocery store amid the softball-sized raindrops out there. So! Onwards!

rats, with wings

Some historic buildings, and less historic urban fowl, in La Candelaria's Plaza de Bolivar.

As I’ve mentioned, La Candelaria is the old, historic, touristy, university-student-filled, kinda-sketchy-at-night neighborhood in Bogotá. In addition to its well-deserved reknown for its colonial architecture, the president’s house, and a certain wonderful church that looks like it’s made of candy, Candelaria is also the place to go for somewhat overpriced but allegedly authentic and entirely delicious Colombian (or, more accurately, Bogotana) food.

In the past two weeks, I’ve hit up Candelaria for food twice, with vastly different experiences and somewhat different results. Spoiler: in the end, it was all delicious. But, as usual here, there were a few bumps along the way.

Rewind about two weeks to a Saturday afternoon, when a friend and I had an intense craving for ajiaco, which is probably Bogotá’s most famous dish. It’s a thick stew made with chicken (or not, if you’re one of us weirdo veggies); three kinds of potatoes, including one that is native only to Colombia; half an ear of corn on the cob; and topped with capers, cream, white rice and avocado, which are brought out on a platter with the soup and are meant to be added at the table. Ajiaco, with chicken or without, is DELICIOUS. It is exactly what you want on one of Bogotá’s (constant) rainy afternoons, and it is filling as nobody’s business. If you’re going to be eating ajiaco, you pretty much have to plan to eat nothing else for the rest of the day, because your stomach will be busy churning all those potatoes around (and being blissfully happy about your gastronomic and life choices).

Here’s the thing, though. Ajiaco is lunch food. It is not dinner food. In the States, we’re generally pretty open to people playing around with food conventions: changing orders, places that only sell cereal, the glorious phenomenon of breakfast-for-dinner, etc. Here, not so much. Apparently when you’re a waiter at one of these tourist traps who is probably (and somewhat justifiably) sick of people doing horrible things to your language, two gringas strolling in and ordering ajiaco at 6:30 on a Saturday night is just too much to bear. But, since you’re Colombian, and Colombians are masters of indirect passive-aggression when it comes to things like this, you will initially offer no hint of malice. Indeed, you’ll quickly offer the menus, take the order with minimal judgment apparent on your face and bring out the tasty bowls of soup and plates of accessories in what seems like record time.

Then you will proceed to ignore your customers. Forever. You will resort to such measures as standing in the entrance with your back to the restaurant, hiding behind the counter to eat your dinner and looking at the ceiling or ground every time you pass near their table so as to make the goal of eye contact impossible. You will do this for nearly an hour, at the end of which time said gringa customers will be so tired of trying to catch your eye to ask for the check that they will simply get up and pay the other server standing at the counter — after briefly considering whether an attempt to flee the premises will finally merit your attention. You will not even look at them as they leave. When you leave work for the night, it will not occur to you that there are any flaws in your customer service skills.

nom nom nom

Chocolate, bread, butter and cheese: my idea of a complete, balanced breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

So. Never going back to THAT place. I apologize for not taking any photos of the tasty ajiaco, but I was intimidated by the waiter’s less-than-accommodating attitude.  I had much better luck when I returned the next weekend, closer to mid-afternoon on a Sunday. We went a few doors down from the place with the hateful waiter, and tucked ourselves into a table in the back of the restaurant, which is one of four nearly identical restaurants perched in a row on a small side street directly off of La Candelaria’s Plaza de Bolivar. As we were in the center of traditional food, we had no choice but to order chocolate santafereño completo (Colombian hot chocolate). They’re big fans of hot chocolate in general here, and it’s hard to go wrong with a drink make of the best food in the world, but the chocolate completo is something special. It arrives at the table on its own small platter, surrounded by slices of bread, butter, an almohabana (sweet cornmeal roll) and a slice of cheese, which tradition dictates that you submerge into the chocolate. Like a good tourist, I tried it, but found that as much as I love both chocolate and cheese, I think I’ll generally try to keep them separate from now on. It’s not that it tasted bad (it’s hard to go wrong with either of those things), but they don’t really gain anything from the combination.

oops

You can barely even see the pig's feet! They obviously belonged to some pretty sneaky pigs.

And then there was the food. Again, feeling adventurous, but not up to the challenge of tackling another bowl of ajiaco, two of us opted to try to the caldo de frijoles, which is essentially just a big bowl of beans and some veggies — or so I thought. Turns out this particular antioqueño recipe comes with some very special extra flavoring, in the form of pezuñas (pig’s feet). Whoops. Vegetarian fail. For the record, I didn’t even know what pig’s feet looked like, much less how they tasted, but now I can at least attest to the former: weird, bony and incredibly fatty. I ended up quarantining the pig’s feet and still ate my weight in a very satisfying bowl of beans, but I’ve certainly learned not to assume that just because my Spanish is pretty good, I won’t still get fooled into ordering the occasional bowl of beans with pig’s feet.

Oh, and Happy Leap Day, y’all! Hope your respective celebrations are free of unwanted meat-bits (but filled with the wanted kind)!

Top Ten Questions For CEIC Norte’s New English Teacher

Working as a teacher is filled with joys, challenges, lesson planning — and answering the same questions 9000 times a day. It’s even more extreme when you’re the only foreigner in a school filled with curious children, in a country where it’s socially acceptable to ask incredibly personal questions within about two minutes of meeting someone. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had enough time to adjust to the constant barrage of questions directed my way, but sometimes I can’t help but laugh at the frequency with which I get asked the exact same things, every day. At the least, I can say that if I ever end up on the wrong side of a press conference, I’m going to be totally prepared for any and all weird questions that people want to throw at me.

In the meantime, I’ve been perfecting my responses to these particular gems:

Don’t you want to see what the questions are?

Oh hey there, legitimacy

Aside

Greetings, fan club! I’m just dropping in for a second, in between sessions of stuffing my face with pizza and/or Crepes and Waffles, to inform you all that some other people have decided my writing is worthy of their time! For the foreseeable future, in addition to keeping up the steady trickle of updates here, I’m also going to be blogging over at La Vida Idealist. La Vida Idealist was originally created by the lovely people at everyone’s favorite job-hunting site, and has since evolved into a blog for and about all of us crazy people who choose to spend our time doing volunteer and non-profit work in Latin America. In addition to my fabulous contributions, it’s got some really interesting posts on everything from the life of Kiva Fellows to how it feels to be a Peace Corps member being forced to leave Honduras. If any of you are at all interested in heading down to this part of the world anytime soon, it’s a great resource and is definitely worth your time.

But even if you’re determined to stay somewhere they celebrate Presidents’ Day, you should still read it, because you like me! You can check out my incredibly eloquent introductory post here. Hopefully there will be many more to follow!

Snitches, swans and snacks

death and destruction

Nobody warned me the apocalypse was scheduled for today

So, it’s the beginning/end of yet another week here in sunny hailing Bogotá. Oh yeah. There are massive, intense hailstones smashing against my windows at this very moment. It’s only vaguely terrifying, really.

Hailstorms aside, though, it’s been a pretty good week. I still absolutely love the kids and (almost all) the teachers at my school. I feel like such a nerd, because I wake up in the morning and I’m actually excited to go to school, just because it’s so much fun being with all the kids. I don’t even mind waking up before 6 a.m. to do this, which is just as shocking to me as it undoubtedly is to those of you who have known me for more than a week. The thing about getting up early here, though, is that it’s not nearly as hard as it is at home. Since it’s so close to the equator, Bogotá gets about 12 hours of daylight pretty much year-round, which is glorious. It also means that the sun rises by 6 every day, so I get to walk to school in sunlight, rather than in horrible cold darkness, as it would be this time of year at home. So a point to Bogotá, there.

Which leads us to the chicken-or-egg issue of how early everything starts here. I don’t know whether it’s a result of the lovely constant daylight schedule or that it just happens to be convenient that the sidewalks are visible when everyone’s walking to work, but people get up outrageously early. The public transportation systems start running before 5 a.m., and they’re PACKED by 6:30. Like I said, my school starts at 7, but most teachers are there by 6:30 — this retroactively gives high-school me nightmares. And not only do people have to get up early just to get to work, but they need to give themselves extra time to get ready, because most Bogotanos don’t leave their houses unless they look perfect. One of the other volunteers lives with a woman who’s a cosmetologist, and she gets up at like 3 a.m. to go to women’s houses to get them ready for work. That’s right, ladies. Here in Bogotá, you’re supposed to get a blowout and your makeup done before you even head to the office. Guess I’m never going to fit in here.

wait! keep reading!

Four weeks, 800 words

YOU GUYS, I KNOW. I know it has been a little bit of a while. But! I promise you all, I’m still alive and generally very happy. A brief life update: We spent the first three weeks after arriving in orientation at a house in a town called Cota, just outside of Bogotá. Despite being next to the city, Cota felt like being way out in the middle of the country, complete with cows, chickens, stray dogs with the potential for fleas, all kinds of exciting plants, minimal air pollution, and a really incredible cheese shop hidden at the end of our street.

I probably would've been okay staying here for more than three weeks.

The three weeks of orientation were your typical cliche whirlwind of madness, crammed with a series of classes on everything from teaching writing to how to deal with the slightly slower pace of work here in Colombia to Spanish tongue-twisters (sorry, trabalenguas. There’s your vocabulary word for today). And of course, there was the bonding. Oh, so much bonding. After classes and dinner, most of us would head to the little tienda across the street for a beer or five — I think we probably gave the lady running it enough business to take the rest of the winter off. On a few nights, we ventured into “town” (either Cota center or the neighboring town of Chia), but the 10:30 p.m. weeknight curfew made significant adventuring kind of challenging. Oh, curfews! It really was just like summer camp (except with fewer canoes and more beer).

and then what happened?