Food Friday: Granadilla!

I’d been saving this one until all of my visitors from home had come and gone, because I didn’t want to ruin the utterly unique experience of meeting (and eating) a granadilla. Now that I’m here all by my lonesome, I can finally enlighten the rest of the non-Colombia-visiting world about the very weird joys of the granadilla.

See? They look perfectly normal like this!

I’ve waxed poetic before about the plethora of amazing fruits that Colombia has to offer — the granadilla is one of these exotic delights (well, they’re not exotic here. People walk around all the time here eating them like they’re apples). On the outside, they’re pretty unremarkable — slightly oval, with a mottled orange skin that makes them look like a not-too-distant citrus cousin. Like a citrus, you can also poke your thumb right through the peel — and that’s where the similarities end. That’s where it starts getting weird.

As soon as you pop your thumb through the skin of the granadilla, you notice something peculiar about it: the peel gives way in tectonic plates of chunks, like Styrofoam. Directly under the thin peel, the inside of the rind is white, fluffy and aerated, as if it were designed to keep the innards safe on long, transcontinental journeys. But that isn’t the weird part. Those innards are what has spooked every person new to Colombia — hell, I even thought they were inedibly bizarre the first time I saw them.

grana-fingers

AHHH! Alien food!

The inside of a granadilla — the part you eat– is a slimy, dark cluster of seeds surrounded by clear goo that bears a strong resemblance to frog eyes, or what I imagine alien eggs look like. And as if that weren’t bad enough, those gooey seeds are enclosed in a layer of little white tentacles, like baby stalactites or ghost fingers, that seem to serve no biological purpose other than to freak people out. There is no way this is not alarming the first time you encounter it. It does not look like something that is meant to be consumed by humans, much less eaten in a casual fashion while walking along the street. And “eaten” is a generous description, since by necessity (unless you have a fork), it’s pretty much mandatory to stick your face into the opened shell of the granadilla and slurp out the seeds in the loudest manner possible. This is infinitely more satisfying than it should be.

People sometimes talk about things being “an acquired taste.” This usually confuses me, since they’re often referring to things that I find so revolting I don’t understand why anyone would want to acquire the taste for them. Granadillas, however, are a perfect example of an acquired taste. Once you get past the initial shock of slurping down something that looks like it’s about to spawn tiny amphibians at any moment, you realize that the gooey insides actually have a nice, light, not-too-sweet flavor that’s a refreshing break from all the rice we’re eating all the time here.

Some of us really, honestly like these things!
[photo courtesy of the lovely Jamie Wiebe, who tried a granadilla once and decided that was enough]

Plus, eating fake frog eyes is kind of fun, in a spooky, Halloween-themed-food kind of way. And then there’s the insistence of my Colombian friends that the best way to loosen the seeds (a necessary task before opening the fruit), rather than banging the granadilla against your hand a few times like I do, is to whack it against a certain, very specific spot on the back of your head — or, more amusingly, your friend’s heads. Any food that combines tasty flavor, weird appearance, the possibility of alarming my friends and family members AND the potential to hit my friends in the head is a winner in my book!

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Summer Flashback: Otavalo Market

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One of the (undoubtedly many) reasons I tend to drive my friends slightly crazy is that I am maybe the world’s least reliable photographer. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m bad at taking pictures (although I certainly didn’t get the … Continue reading

We Need to Talk About Coke

You had to know this conversation was coming eventually. Yes, I spend a lot of time talking about how Colombia isn’t the country it was 20 or even 10 years ago, how there’s so so SO much more to this amazing place than “machine guns and murders,” as my father so aptly put it in a recent conversation about how apparently nobody we know has seen any news since 1985. Colombia is no longer Pablo Escobar’s Colombia, but it’s also not paradise, despite what the tourism ads tell you. As much as I’ve fallen in love with this place, my love isn’t blind: this is still very much a country at war, and it’s a war that extends far beyond the geographic borders. It’s a war that probably touches you.

If you know anything about anything, you’re aware that Colombia has been mired in a civil conflict for decades. A quick and dirty primer for those of you who failed Endless Civil Wars in Latin America 201: The modern conflict began in 1948, with a decade-long political civil war known as La Violencia, which killed more than 300,000 people, most of them farmers or rural residents. In the meantime, the number of people affiliated with the Communist party had been slowly growing since the years following WWI; by the early 1960s, many rural regions had formed their own leagues based on communist principles, calling for increased rights to land ownership, services and access to resources that were controlled by the land-owning class. Because god forbid the threat of Communism be allowed to flourish near our own continent, the U.S. of course had to get involved: in 1962, our proud nation created a paramilitary intervention, known as “Plan Lazo,” which trained and encouraged the Colombian military (as well as the paramilitary civil defense groups they created, which of course don’t conveniently vanish when the plan ends) to attack these leagues and their adjacent communities, many of whom were generally unarmed. Such good neighbors, we are. In response to a 1964 raid on a small town, when 16,000 U.S.-sponsored Colombian troops attacked a group of 1000 villagers, a group of 48 men who had been involved in the battle created the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, known as the FARC by their nearest and dearest friends, and everyone else.

The group quickly grew to include hundreds of guerrillas, with the ostensible purpose of defending their territory and land from these imposed, colonialist attacks. However, somewhere along the way (sometime in the early ’80s, to be more precise), the FARC lost most of their revolutionary political ideals, and turned into something closer to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Cocaína. Cocaine is a hell of a drug fast way to make a profit, and when you’re spending all your time hiding in the jungles and fighting the paramilitares/army/police/idiot lost tourists/capybaras/anyone who crosses your path, you need all the fast money you can get. Current statistics estimate that the FARC brings in anywhere from $60 to $100 million dollars annually just from taxing the drug trade, so it’s no surprise that the guerrilla groups saw that they could leverage this system to their advantage, nor that they turned rural farms with little oversight into a production system for their new export, therefore placing the farmers directly into the lose-lose middle of this impossible situation: work with the FARC, and stand a chance of losing their farms or being sent to jail under the latest anti-drug initiative; refuse to work with the FARC, and stand a chance of losing their lives. As usual, the little guy is the one who gets screwed.

But you know what, kids? Most of us, even unwilling journalism majors, have learned a little bit about economics by this point in our lives. We certainly understand the capitalist holy grail of supply and demand — we live it. So if the supply is here, hiding in the overgrown corners of jungle-bordered Colombia, shielding themselves from the occasional pesticide-laced flyover or big military initiative — then where is the demand?

Take a look around you, dear friends and countrymen (and, I suppose, some of you non-countryfolk). Because that’s where it is. Colombia may be one of the world’s biggest producers of cocaine, but the U.S. is by far the biggest consumer. It’s no accident that in the last few years, northern Mexico has turned into a roiling nightmare of narcotraficantes and horrific cartel-sanctioned violence — someone has to protect that coke and make sure it’s getting safely to the noses of rich kids in American cities.

I have friends (not good friends, obviously) back at home who do or at least have done cocaine. I’ve seen friends or acquaintances snorting that stuff up their noses, and while it never seems like the time to give them a lecture about supporting traffickers and essentially signing off on death, both in other countries and in the U.S., being here by the source makes this just so much clearer. I see the poorest neighborhoods of Bogotá, perched up on the hills and without electricity or running water, filled with people who fled the conflict in their native towns, trying to salvage at least their lives and families, if nothing else. I teach kids who lost family members in the ’80s and early ’90s, the unstable era when Bogotá was a city filled with narcos and bombs, when Medellín was the murder capital of the world. I sense the hope, the need to break free of this past, this narrative of Colombia as eternal battleground. The scars here are still so, so visible, and no amount of smiles or makeup or plastic surgery, that Colombian specialty, can cover them up.

Maybe you can’t see them from where you are. Maybe you think it’s not you perpetuating this cycle of violence and exploitation. Maybe you just really don’t care where your toys come from, like people who buy diamond engagement rings without investigating the history of those sparkling gems. If you do care, though — if you give a shit about people, about the ability of human beings to live their lives without the risk of being killed or injured or forced to leave their entire livelihoods behind to flee from an unsafe situation to a far-away city or country — then think. Think about the implications of your actions, think about what these habits say about you or your friends as human beings, think about what you can do to distance yourself from the kind of people who, through their action or inaction, implicitly condone drug violence and the exploitation of thousands of innocent people.

At the least, think before you inhale.