Food Friday: Ma-Ma-Mazorca!

It’s windy. It’s chilly. About every twenty minutes, it starts pouring like someone up there has a serious vendetta against south-central Bogotá. It is not exactly ideal conditions for a parade — or indeed, for any living creature to be outside, besides maybe amphibians.

one of the better excuses to consume lots of butter on a daily basis

Perusing the kernel-y offerings on a slightly more meteorologically appealing day.

But hark! Suddenly a glorious smell comes wafting down the street! I turn a corner, and there it is, shining in front of me like the Holy Grail: a mazorca cart! Technically, it’s smoking and steaming more than shining, but in this kind of weather, it’s really all the same.

So what, you ask, is mazorca? Some kind of mystical substance that provides shelter and warmth on the dampest of high-altitude afternoons? Not exactly, but something like that, and something that should be familiar to most of us. Hint: in Gringolandia, we call it corn-on-the-cob.

Okay, yes, corn on the cob is not exactly a new thing to those of us who grew up with summer in North America. Watching the sun go down from the comfort of a plastic chair at a barbeque while covering your chin with butter is practically a July rite of passage, after all. But for most of us, corn on the cob is a timely, seasonal food. It means grills, and lingering sunlight, and it’s only around for a few months, just long enough to remind us of what we’re missing the rest of the year.

waiting, waiting, waiting

The hard work of fanning the delicious, delicious flames. People who own mazorca carts must have awesome triceps.

So while mazorca is, technically, the same as corn on the cob, it doesn’t have nearly the same connotations. This is partly because Bogotá never feels like August in New England, but mostly because it’s readily — and cheaply — available in all kinds of places. No need to drag out the grill and lighter fluid when you can find someone else who’s doing your dirty, sweaty work for you. And don’t get me wrong — it is sweaty business, standing over hot coals, turning ears of mazorca over and over, waving smoke out of the eyes of your customers.

In addition to the lack of Memorial-Day-related-implications, mazorca also isn’t quite the same, taste- or texture-wise, as the corn we’re used to. Most of us in the U.S. eat primarily sweet corn — while mazorca is delicious, the kernels definitely don’t burst with flavor the same way sweet corn does. Mazorca kernels are larger and a bit tougher, almost starchy. The best description I can offer is that it feels like eating an ear of corn that’s halfway through the process of turning into popcorn. And when that concoction is slathered with butter and salt and handed to me in a napkin, steaming with heat, I can’t think of many things I’d rather be eating on a cold, windy, rainy afternoon.

bet those cows are jealous

Or on a sunny afternoon! That works too! Equal-opportunity mazorca eater, here.

“Take Your Rosaries Out of My Ovaries!”

Aside

New post up at La Vida Idealist! Some more thoughts on Día de la Mujer and the overall state of women’s rights here in Colombia — definitely better-researched and a little more legit than what I wrote here. Please read it if you have a moment/care about half the world’s population.

The Bogotálogo: My Personal Guide to Bogotá Spanish

Aside

On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up this absolutely awesome book at an author’s event last week (which, incidentally, was held at the most insanely nice private school here in Bogotá — the library looked like Colombian Hogwarts or something). It’s called Bogotálogo: Usos, Desusos y Abusos del Español Hablado en Bogotá (Uses, Disuses and Abuses of the Spanish Spoken in Bogotá), and it is HILARIOUS. It’s a really comprehensive, beautifully designed guide to all kinds of Bogotá slang, from the traditional to the very dirty, filled with vintage photos of people and places in Bogotá from the early 20th century. The author, Andrés Ospina, has worked for a while in radio here in Bogotá, and he’s incredibly witty, which clearly shows through the often-sarcastic definitions he provides for words and phrases (in the front of my book, he wrote “A little piece of my humble hometown. I’m sure it will help to worsen or ruin your Spanish.” What a guy!).

Personally, despite his insistence, I’m pretty sure it’s going to help my Colombian Spanish a hell of a lot. It’s already been a huge hit with the other teachers at school — the other day, we locked the students out of the teachers’ room and spent an hour reading the definitions to each other, and they’ve been quick to add words or phrases they insist are missing (this is how I learned how to say “spooning” in Spanish! Which will be endlessly useful, I’m sure). In any case, it’s worth a look, especially for anyone else in Colombia, or anyone with some interest in Spanish linguistics.

Here’s the link to the site, which lists most of the definitions (in Spanish, of course. Sorry, monolingual friends!). Enjoy!

How Not to Ruin a Goodbye for Everyone You Know

bring it, times square

For the record, there are not mountains like this in New York.

My friend is leaving Colombia tonight, heading back to the States to start grad school in a month. It’s a great opportunity for her, of course, very exciting etc., but obviously on a selfish level I’m sad to lose someone with whom I’ve already spent lots of time eating pizza, drinking wine and watching the occasional Ryan Gosling movie. Also, it means I have to say goodbye to someone I really like, about seven months earlier than I’d anticipated. This unequivocally sucks.

It’s these kinds of moments where most people will inevitably trot out that old reliable: “I’m so bad at goodbyes.” This is, by far, the most socially acceptable way to react to having to deal with someone’s departure, even in the kinds of mobile, transient communities you find among international workers and travelers.

But here’s the thing, friends: nobody is good at goodbyes. They’re not something that the average human enjoys, unless you’re saying goodbye to a particularly difficult boss or horrible ex-boyfriend. In general, we’re not big on abandonment or drastic change, and goodbyes tend to involve both of those things.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that I’m good at dealing with goodbyes (please see first sentence of above paragraph, thank you). But truthfully, I would feel dishonest if I claimed to be particularly bad at them. It is possible, you know, to deal with departures without reacting to them as The Worst Thing In The History Of The World Ever. This, however, does require a few factors in your favor, some of which are definitely more controllable than others. This, I think, is more or less what works for me:

1. The first is not being a crier. If you’re prone to crying (and I know a few lovely people who fall right into this category), I got nothing for you. Sorry. Personally, I violently loathe the idea of crying in front of any entity other than my teddy bear, and do everything in my power to keep it that way. So, crying. Don’t do it. Doesn’t help.

2. The second, I’d argue, is a strong belief in personal agency and responsibility. If I want to stay in touch with someone, I will. Sure, when you leave the country, your relationships do change — I can’t text my friends at any hour about the cute teacher at work, and I have to schedule Skype calls to keep updated on the lives of people at home. The frequency changes — where I used to be in contact with some friends every week, now it’s more like once or twice a month. This is a necessary side effect of geography and new systems of telecommunication, but it’s not like these people suddenly stop existing in my life, or become less important. They’re still entirely there. If you want to stay in touch with someone, you will, one way or another. It’s as simple as that. So saying goodbye doesn’t mean that person is gone forever — unless you want it that way.

3. The third, and maybe most important, one has to do with time management, or some emotional version of picking the site for your battles. I usually do this thing where I anticipate leaving a place or people about three months ahead of time, and preemptively go through my depressed grieving process at that point. My friends think this is slightly masochistic and entirely comical, but dammit, it works for me. Granted, it does lead to a lot of mournful looks directed at things like Lake Michigan and the entirety of Davis Square, and drunken conversations (or, occasionally, somewhat more than conversations) with my friends about how much I’m going to miss them — but it also gives me a manageable amount of time to work through whatever negative emotions I’m feeling ahead of time in order to be calm when the actual moment arrives. And calmness goes a long way towards making these kinds of transitions easier.

This was most relevant at two points recently: when I graduated from college, and when I moved here in January. Both situations involved leaving people and places that I love dearly, and I spent a good amount of time during the months beforehand moping about how much I was going to miss Ian’s Pizza (oh, mac & cheese pizza, ambrosia of the Wrigleyville gods!) or sitting in my living room with my roommates at midnight talking about femme invisibility. I was probably incredibly unpleasant to be around for some of those days — but when the time came to actually leave, there was no crying. I’d already moved through that, and everything was wiped clean to make space for my excitement about whatever was to come next.

Of course, this time I’m not the one leaving, which makes it a bit harder, although the fact that I’m living in Bogotá for at least seven more months is a pretty good consolation prize. And I didn’t get that much advance warning this time either, which has pretty much negated that vital third strategy. Still, these kinds of changes are inevitable, and it’s certainly made me realize how much I’ve already established a life and routine here, in just two short months. I have friends I rely on, a favorite bakery and a standing Ultimate Frisbee date with some of my students on Monday afternoons, and I’m already comfortable enough with all of these aspects of my life that change feels peculiar, instead of still just part of the adjustment process.

So Rachel, I’m going to miss you, but good luck in New York, and thank you for helping me realize how much Bogotá, for me, has already begun to feel like home.

Food Friday: Cake or Death? Colombia Chooses Cake.

suck it, people who wait in those long lines in new york

The cupcake trend has even made it to Bogotá! Her bakery is actually only about 10 blocks away from me -- I have yet to visit, for fear that I may attempt to move in there.

Let’s talk about CAKE, baby….

Seriously. Let’s talk about it. Because they do cake like it’s their job here (even the people for whom it is not their job). Colombians love their desserts — which, now that I reflect upon it, may have a lot to do with why I’m falling in love with this country so quickly. I’ve found that dessert only tends to hasten the seduction process. But putting aside the psychological effects of chocolate for a moment, Colombia really is a country of glorious sweets, and there’s something for pretty much every palate, whether your idea of a perfect post-dinner snack is a bowl of fresh papaya or a just a container of arequipe and a spoon. Sure, the helado might not be quite as rico as in Buenos Aires, but there’s just as much of it, and you hardly notice the difference once it’s covered in chocolate sauce and sprinkles.

oh hey chocoflan, i see you back there

This is why I never end up eating actual lunch on weekends. It's not my fault that my ears are just fine-tuned to the siren song of sugar.

And the bakeries! There are bakeries practically everywhere — it seems like you can hardly walk three blocks without stopping to peer in the window of a pasteleria to admire the piles of merengones (fluffy meringues in a dozen different flavors, so delicious they’ve converted even this non-meringue-fan) and elaborate cakes decorated for every possible occasion. Want a mora (blackberry)-flavored cake to celebrate a holiday, or a massive icing-slathered construction for a quinceañera? Bogotá bakeries can make it happen.

nom, and so forth

The cake for our friend Brighid's birthday. Nothing says "feliz cumpleaños" like a pile of fruit and frosting.

Oh, and remember how we discussed the fantastical cornucopia of fruit available here? Well, the all-powerful cakemakers are well aware of the amazing range of flavors they have to work with, and they make excellent use of them. I’ve seen cakes in every flavor from orange to banana to maracuyá (passionfruit). The motto seems to be: if it grows here, let’s make a cake with it! And that, my friends, is a motto I can definitely live — and eat — with.

pretty sure nobody who comes to usaquen is on a diet

I will have one of each, please. (And this photo doesn't even include the Oreo cheesecake. Oh yeah. There was Oreo cheesecake.)

Fruit Friday!

You guys.

I have been here for 71 whole days, and I have yet to really write about the fruit. I am the worst Colombia blogger ever. A million apologies. But let me make it up to you, right now, with a smorgasbord of fruit-related musings and photos. Hope you ate a good breakfast this morning, because otherwise your salivary glands may not be able to handle this.

ALL OF THESE

Some of these look familiar, right?

So. If you know anything about Colombia, besides the crap you see in movies — if you know anything real about Colombia — you’ve probably heard about the fruit. When the Great Gods of Biodiversity were designing the world, they were obviously feeling particularly benevolent toward Colombia, because the variety of fruit available here is just out of control. There are fruits here I’ve never seen or even heard of before in my life, much less tasted. They have names like granadilla, lulo, maracuyá and guanabana — not only are they delicious, but they’re fun to say, too!

You can find your usual suspects here, of course: ripe yellow mangoes, papayas that could double as free weights and little tart apples. Most neighborhoods have at least one fruit store every three blocks or so, packed with crates piled high with almost every source of vitamins you could ever want. And did I mention how cheap they are? At my friendly local frutería, I can pick up two mangoes, four mandarinas (located somewhere between oranges and clementines in the International Citrus Registry), and a nectarine for about US$3. This is a habit I have no intention of kicking anytime soon.

hey dude! at least smile if you're going to bust into my picture!

Fruit juice: for when you can't be bothered to use your teeth to ingest your Vitamin C.

I’m sure I’ll end up writing more about fruit in the future, as I acquire more photos of them (especially granadilla. I just can’t write about granadilla without a picture of it. Visual evidence is integral to understanding it). Honestly, I could write about fruit every week until I leave and still have neglected a ton of them, but I’ll do the best I can in the oh-so-brief time we have. Let’s start with the Ms, shall we?
More delicious treats straight ahead!

Finding Tranquility in Bogotá’s Botanic Gardens

Several weeks ago, a few other volunteers and I decided to explore the Botanic Gardens here in Bogotá, as part of our initial (slightly aimless and more-than-slightly lost) wanderings around the city. The Gardens are located adjacent to the Parque Simón Bólivar, one of the most visible spaces in Bogotá and a centerpiece of the city’s outdoorsy culture, as well as the largest park in the city.

nah, dude, i don't care where i am. it's still a gahden

What pollution?

Simón Bólivar is actually made up of a group of smaller parks, which combine to create the over-400-hectare space (larger than New York’s Central Park). These smaller sections include the central park, where residents can see many of Bogotá’s outdoor concerts; Parque el Salitre, an amusement park with various rides and an awesome-looking ferris wheel that I can’t wait to ride (and use as a vantage point to take pictures of the whole city, obviously); the Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum), which I’m certain I will also love just based on the name; the Parque de los Novios, which we stumbled into accidentally while hunting for the Botanic Gardens, and which reminded me rather a lot of Boston’s very own beloved Public Gardens, albeit with fewer duck statues; an aquatics center; and what seem like a million tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, running tracks and bike paths. It’s a hell of a park, is what I’m trying to say. You could spend days there (and nobody would ever find you)!

But the gardens! That was the point! As I said, the gardens are next to Simón Bólivar, on one of the major streets running into the park — but you wouldn’t know it once you’re inside. After paying the 2,700-peso (about US$1.50) entrance fee, we passed through the turnstile under the brick archway and stepped back into nature.

The park feels like a whole separate space from the rest of crowded, busy, noisy, polluted, hectic Bogotá. There are huge patches of grass just begging for someone to sit on them! There are palm trees! There are lagoons and roses and swans and vast meandering greenhouses full of tropical plants and orchids! After spending so much time on the dusty streets and sidewalks of the city, being in the Garden felt almost like an out-of-body experience.

Due to unforeseen incidences of getting lost, we arrived there much later than we intended, so we didn’t get enough time to see nearly as much of the place as we would’ve liked — for example, we never made it to the orchid exhibit. I would be disappointed about this, except that it gives me an excellent excuse to return soon, to spend a few hours basking in the sunny grass, watching birds pass overhead and forgetting that I’m not in the middle of a distant tropical paradise.

Click here for more photos of the lovely gardens!

Food Friday: Jet Chocolate!

So I’m testing out this new idea, in which I will attempt to write something about Colombian food every week or two. Because I know how much you (by which I mostly mean I) like food! And we’re picking Fridays because alliteration. So there.

Considering that it is essentially its own food group in my diet, and given how much of it I received yesterday, it’s inevitable that I begin with chocolate — specifically, Jet Chocolate. Jet is probably the most popular brand of chocolate in Colombia. In fact, it’s produced by the National Chocolate Company, which we don’t even have in the U.S. (yet. We don’t have it YET. Still waiting on those Oompa-Loompas to show up). Jet bars come in just about every possible size, from tiny two-square bites to giant ones bigger than my hand, filled with strawberry or arequipe flavoring. [Side note: arequipe is a sweet, sticky, caramel-like substance, kind of like the Colombian dulce de leche. I’ll get to it sometime soon, don’t worry.]

it's like a staircase of deliciousness

A helpful comparison, for those of you for whom chocolate size matters.

too bad these have all been eaten already

A few different sizes and types of Jet bars: plain, strawberry, and arequipe.

The bars, always wrapped in shiny blue paper with the little airplane logo (get it?), are your typical mass-produced milk chocolate bars, nothing special flavor-wise. HOWEVER. There is something truly, gloriously, incredibly magical about Jet bars. Something that makes them better than any other milk chocolate bar I’ve ever seen or consumed in my life. Something that creates in me the uncontrollable desire to buy EVERY JET BAR EVER. Something that is undoubtedly making their marketing people terribly and deservedly rich.

Can you guess what it is?