C.America Part 3: Guatemala

Markets are often the best place to find the best local food at the best prices. We had a day in Guatemala City before heading out to Antigua so we decided to check out the central market and gnaw at the tip of the iceberg called guatemala shopping.

Once we got to the food section of the market… there were a few different choices but people seemed to be flocking towards one particular vendor so naturally we join the movement.

And I quickly find out why. I ordered buche tacos. That would be pig’s stomach. There seems to be a confusion here, as buche also comes up as pig’s esophagus when searched on the interweb. But the lady who prepared my taco said it’s stomach so… buche tacos. And they ask if I want chicharron on it…. um… yes, obviously!The tacos were delicious. Very very crunchy chicharron crumbs, in fact I think I chipped a filling biting into it. While I go at those tacos, my eyes wonder with distraction and greed. I see some other weird looking stuff and I have to try it, it’s just in my nature.

Moronga=blood sausage. I will have some please.I’m not new to blood sausage, there’s blood sausage in Korean cuisine, but I’ve never tried it in a taco form. It’s good. I’m suddently intrigued by how they prepare it. And how blood sausage is made. Challenge possibility?

I’m not the one for flavored sodas and junky sweets so I give Mikey a look when he orders a purple soda. But this purple drink turns out to be perfect for washing down all that whatever I just ate. Not to kill and forget the flavors but just to freshen the pallet. 😉

For lunch we take a short walk from the hostel to 7 Caldos, a seafood restaurant that we had spotted on the way to the hostel. It starts bucketing rain as we pick at our seafood cocktail and pitcher of michelada.

That night we get into Antigua, a colonial town about 45 minutes from G. City that was once the capital of Guatemala. It’s Saturday night and there are street food vendors at the plaza outside of the beautiful church of La Merced. We pick up some tallboys and find a cart to eat at.

First I get a tostada with guacamole spread from one cart. Then I see another lady selling chile rellenos. So I get a thing of chile relleno and carefully place it on my tostada and top with beet and cabbage slaw. That relleno was stuffed right.

The guacamole tostada seemed to be a pretty standard snack which could be easily found on the streets of Antigua. I had another one the next day but I wished I had a chile relleno to top with.

There were a ton of beautiful old churches in Antigua so one day we took the day to walk around the whole city and sight-see. After about 11 churches in, we’re feeling hungry… and as we cram in yet another church and turn the corner… jackpot! In a big plaza, a few different carts grilling meat all smokey and smelling delicious.

Mikey gets longanisa, sausage.. and I get chicken, both served with rice, beans and tortillas. They use real charcoal, as in not processed, and these meats just had the deepest smokiest flavors embedded in them. I had to get another piece of chicken, it’s worth $1.

Strangely enough, there was a Korean restaurant in Antigua. Casa Korea. Considering that we ended up going there twice in 5 days… I guess there’s a market for that business after all. The food was… actually really good and authentic. Jojo, I thought of you as I ate my Kimchi Chigae.

After a few days in Antigua, we headed northwest towards Lake Atitlan. Roads were pretty gnarly getting there since there were a bunch of mudslides from all the rain they’ve had. Our van parked at a rest stop while trying to figure out the current conditions. We ordered some breakfast.A beautiful scramble with a weird cheese wedge… but no gallo pinto in sight. I’m good.

We arrive in Panajachel, a small town on the north edge of Lake Atitlan. After a boat tour of a couple different lake towns, we freshen up and go on a mission to find the Giant’s game somewhere. Street foods can be such distractions though, especially when you’re a bit hungry.

This dude clearly knew what he was doing because that smell was no joke. Despite the initial hesitation upon seeing that giant head of a pineapple on top of the skewer of meat (why!)… I had to overcome my fears and approach the cart to get a closer look at what was being cooked up on that grill of his.

He artfully combined an array of different meats – chicken, pork and sausage – and onions and served up some delicious looking tacos.

Since this tasted really good, it qualifies as a highlight and so I’m gonna keep all these pictures although they’re fuzzy! This is their spread of taco fixings. mmm.

See how amazing these look? They were also very huge. Mikey and I each had one taco and it was enough for dinner!

The next day was the market day in Chichicastenango which is a town about 1 hour north of Panajachel. It’s kind of a must for tourist if you can catch market day which is only Thursday and Sunday. Here we found true fried chicken.

The pickled stuff in the jar… was spicy. I thought I might have overdone it but it turned out that I hadn’t (I didn’t get sick :))

All this spicy pickled stuff we’ve come across on our trip is making me want to delve into home pickling. In fact, I just ordered this book on amazon on pickling. I think we should all pickle. Challenge!

After the spicy and greasy… I needed something else. Coconut or Dragonfruit pops? Perfect. 1 dragonfruit please!

I really loved how cubical these pops were though. They stacked so nicely in the cooler. Like building blocks. This made me reminisce about the time when Jojo and I would talk about doing a gourmet popsicle cart.

Now some market shots…

In Guatemala City. Coming across this felt like a nightmare of being surrounded by a million pineapples. It was the smell.

Market in Antigua. Baskets of fresh veggies and fruits. All the ladies wear the coolest handwoven / embroidered blouses that looks like a vomit of a hundred different colors.

A drink to note: Mojito I got in Flores towards the end of Guatemala trip. It was blended, green and slushy. I liked because in a mojito you can never get that piece of mint leaf through your straw. Here, no problem.

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C.America Part 2.5: El Salvador

Ok. We didn’t really explore El Salvador. But we did go through it on our 15 hours bus ride from Managua, Nicaragua to Guatemala City. We hopped on our bus at 2am, and by the time we got to the border of Nicaragua and El Salvador, it was about 9am and we were awfully hungry. And the kind of hunger you feel from being on a bus for multiple hours is something different. Then came the young girls of El Salvadorian border town with their steamy fresh hotcakes aka Pupusas! Thank God. We got squash blossom and bean stuffed pupusas. Along with the cabbage slaw that was slightly warm from the proximity to the steaming pupusas, we devour our ‘breakfast on bus’ which would keep our stomach happy until we reach our final destination. Kind of a highlight worth getting it’s own “part”.

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C.America Part 2: Nicaragua

When we got to Nicaragua, we had the privilege of staying with a friend in San Juan Del Sur, another small beach town on the west coast, who had been living there for the past 5 years. It was about a week into our trip when we arrived in San Juan and I was just about getting sick of gallo pintos. Being a big surfer and tourist destination in Nicaragua, the town had plenty of good restaurants with fresh food but I was so delighted to have experienced… El Colibri. It was our last night in town, our friends Sam and wife Dana really treated us out to the best restaurant around. I was so impressed with their wholesome yet creative menu – I would have ordered everything if I’d had the stomach for it – and the food tasted amazing. Not to mention the cold pitcher of Sangria which was so complimentary to the food and the mood!Bruschetta and olive tapenade on corn-meal-y bread. yummy!

Menu said: Tenderloin pork cubes in tomato wine prune sauce served with broccoli potato purée.
What I got: Tender-loin swimming in perfectly reduced, tangy yet creamy tomato sauce over medium chunky mashed potato, light green in color from the broccoli. Pretty, Amazing.

Once we left San Juan, we headed to Ometepe, a big Island with 2 volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua. Beautiful but mildly populated which also meant limited food options. So we’re back to the modest gallo pintos. Although I actually did enjoy this meal, it ended up getting me pretty sick. Was it the gallo pinto? the mystery cheese cube? the eggs? or the hot sauce that I poured over every single thing on the plate?

After I got done being sick, we rented mountain bikes from the hotel and went on a ride around the volcanoes to Ojo de Agua, the hole of water!, where we got to wash off the 3 liters of sweat we made on the way there. And after swimming in the ojo, we rode down the street and sat down at a restaurant right by the lake.Um… I got fried chicken. I guess technically this would be called “fried chicken” as well. Wishing it could look more like KFC or Popeyes – pretty sad-, I still finish the mysteriously reddish “fried chicken” I got.

Here are some market shots from Granada, a Spanish colonial town by Lake Nicaragua.Meats next to fruits next to fish next to candies next to rat poison next to meats.

Fresh water crabs. cute.

Bulk spices and what look like ingredients for witchcraft. Of course Mikey had to spend about 10 minutes here, asking what every single thing is and carefully examining each bag.

hot looking chili peppers!

Stacks and stacks of fruit baskets.

Chicks on grains and dog food.

Nicaraguan beer: Toña, also time-sensitive upon opening. Recommended with salt and lime.

And I just want to add this intriguing arrangement I noticed at a gas station store.

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C.America Part 1: Costa Rica

We spent most of our time in Santa Teresa in Costa Rica, a small beach town on the West coast. We were supposed to stay with our friend Tiffany from SF and we had no clue where she lived in town, because they have addresses like 10 meters up the hill from the super(market) Maya off the main road. Although there was only 1 main road, there were like 10 supermarkets in town and of course we forget which super… We leave a brief message on Tiff’s answering machine and sit down at a restaurant near super Ronny, hoping she could just come find us once she gets the message. So the first meal I get in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica looks like this.Not too bad! Except that I ordered beef. Why did I order beef after seeing the skinniest cows ever out the bus on the way to Santa Teresa for 3 hours, I don’t know. I was just very hungry. But besides the very tough steak that I couldn’t really chew through, the rice and beans, grilled onions, sauteed zucchini and cole slaw(?) were pretty satisfactory. For me, it was all the juices from the sautee, slaw and beans that seeped into the rice that made it. I’m not gonna lie, I love my rice. And Tiffany shows up before we’re even done with our meal! No complaints whatsoever.

The next day, we stroll over to Casa Zen where Tiffany works, a really cool, pretty place to stay right by the beach in Santa Teresa. We get some breakfast, with a typical Costa Rican gallo pinto which is rice with black beans… Here’s mikey’s breakfast since his looked prettier.Perfect breakfast before a day of good surfing in Costa Rica! which we would have done if the waves weren’t 6′ overhead. Hardy breakfast nonetheless.

For lunch, Tiffany’s roommate Ryan who owns Good Life Tattoo shop in town takes us to the “fish market” , a tiny shop that sells fresh local seafood and serves a few dishes cooked with it. I hesitantly put in an order of fish tacos with their gringo owner… and after sharing a pitcher of cold beer and Ryan setting up a fishing trip for the following morning with a local captain, I’m served with tacos as beautiful as they smell.Blocked by the sight of all that shredded cabbage was the perfectly seared, crispy tender fish, as well as the sauce that was lathered on the tortillas, a spicy aioli of sort, I’m guessing. Nonetheless, cleanly presented with pretty slices of lime and all… Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Lesson learned.

That night, we went over to Tiffany’s good friend Dave’s house and ordered pizzas and watched the Kardashians. I had never watched the Kardashians and it was weird to see them talk and move around instead of be frozen in pictures on celebrity gossip blogs. Also weird was getting pizza delivery to what looked like in the middle of some jungle. Tiffany had to give them Dave’s “address” which was something like, ’35 meters up from super Maya, across the small creek and the 5th house on the left, you’ll hear dogs barking’. Miraculously the pizzas show up before getting too cold! Tiffany ordered so I’m not sure what they were exactly but one was with arugula and the other was with fish. Fish pizza, again, weird, but I think I ended up eating like 6 out of 8 slices.

After a few reruns of the Kardashians and fish pizza debauchery – mostly executed by me – we get up at 5:30am the next morning for the fishing trip set up by Ryan. Ryan shows up with a local friend, double-fisting Imperials (beer) and not having slept all night. We pick up 2 other friends of Ryans who are visiting from Minneapolis, then drive 15 minutes south to Malpais, a small fishing village to meet up with the captain. I popped dramamines as did the boys just in case of sea sickness. Amused at how wasted the boys still were from partying all night, and feeling relatively confident about my current conditions I step into the captain’s modest boat. And boy, were the waves wild. Of course it is ONLY me that gets sick. And therefore no proof of being out at sea for 4 hours. I didn’t even get to hold the fishing pole, all I could hold onto was the side rim of the boat. Ryan almost fell over and into the sea about 4 times from being wasted, yet I was the only one that physically got sick. 😦 The boys ended up catching 1 big mackerel and 4 huge jack fish. When we came back to the shore, captain filleted all the fish for us to eat on the spot and to take home. And we ate very well that night. We had sashimi, ceviche, pan seared fish, and taco fixings. A pretty awesome way to close the Costa Rica chapter. Thanks to Tiff and Ryan!

Beers of Costa Rica:
Once you open it, key is to commit and pretty much drink it as fast as you can.

1. Pilsen

2. Imperial

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Southern caviar

Since this might be my signature dish, a detailed description of pimento cheese seems in order.  In the South, pimento cheese (aka Southern caviar) is a standard spread/dip used for snacks, appetizers and as a sandwich filling–preferably on white bread, sliced diagonally, with crusts neatly trimmed away.  If you don’t see it on the buffet line at a picnic, potluck, ladies luncheon or party, you are probably not around true Southern folk.  But don’t be rude and say anything–just smile, be gracious and say “Bless their hearts!” under your breath. Everybody loves pimento cheese; upscale restaurants feature it on their menus, but you can also get it by the pound in most supermarkets, like the Harris Teeter in Salisbury, NC.

I’m not a fan of these brands above, but the Harris Teeter version with jalapenos is quite good.  It’s a bit more expensive, but well worth it. I got some strange looks while I was taking photos of this stuff!

Harris Teeter pimento cheese

My dad taught me how to make pimento cheese, though I’ve made some changes and developed my own recipe.  This was my go-to dish for potlucks in San Francisco and I think I made some friends because of it!  The basic ingredients are so simple: cheese, mayo and pimentos.  I prefer a mix of habanero and sharp cheddar cheese. Duke’s mayonnaise is definitely the best, though not readily available outside of the Southeast.

There was only 1 jar of diced pimentos, so I reluctantly bought some roasted red peppers.  Some of the fancy recipes call for these instead of pimentos.  They claim the flavor is better, but that just seems wrong. Adding the peppers is nice, but you must include pimentos in pimento cheese! Season with salt, pepper, hot sauce, and worchestershire.

the usual suspects

This fabulous dish could not be easier to make! Shred the cheese, add the mayo, stir it up, and season to your liking. You don’t need to measure anything, just keep tasting along the way. Let the spread sit in the frig for a bit before serving so the flavors can blend and the spread sets a bit.

There are a ton of recipes and articles celebrating pimento cheese. This recipe looks interesting with the addition of pickles and includes some good background info.  Pimento cheese is served with everything from crackers to burgers to steaks.  In the summertime, it’s hard to beat celery stalks filled with cold pimento cheese.  I like spreading it on mini toasts or sandwich bread slices and putting it under the broiler for a bit to melt.  Crescent rolls stuffed with pimento cheese are also awesome. The buttery, flaky crust is a nice compliment to the creamy goodness that oozes out of those rolls.

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Tractors & tacos

webb rd exit 70 off I-85

I have to set the mood for this next post……Above is a view from the highway of Mid South Tractor Company, my dad’s business. You can’t see all the good looking orange Kubota‘s in this shot, but they are definitely there.  For the last few months, my dad has been telling me all about his 2 new friends/business associates who have a taco truck.  On Saturday and Sunday, these 2 brothers from Guanajuato, Mexico set up their taco truck at the entrance of Mid South.  They always send my dad home with a few plates of food, kinda like paying rent.

The first weekend I was back home, my dad brought back 2 huge carna asada tortas and an al pastor plate.  I was so happy! Sadly, I don’t know of any taquerias in Salisbury and was excited to see some authentic Mexican food! So of course I had to see this taco truck in action…..

…..and I was not disappointed! Who knew that tractors and tacos could be such a lovely combination?!?! I ordered 2 al pastor tacos and Israel hooked me up with an extra chorizo & carne asada mix.  So good! I might just be able to make it back home in the south! I think all tractor stores should have a taco truck.

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cajun filet biscuit combo w/tea

unwrapped cajun filet biscuit sandwich with seasoned fries and tea

I’m not embarrassed that this meal from Bojangles’ is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It’s understood that the tea will be sweet. I know it’s processed fast food and greasy, but it’s comforting. This is part of my culture! And since there were no Bojangles’ in San Francisco, this is always a regular stop when I’m home.

unwrapped

The biscuit is flakey and tastes of butter. The spice from the fried chicken filet is the perfect filling. And those seasoned fries…..it’s so OK to lick your fingers! I know there’s more on the “menu”, but I never order anything else. Sometimes I have a Cheerwine instead of tea. It’s an instant hangover cure with the perfect blend of carbs, grease, and sugar.

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