Tag Archives: comida

Mi chanchito : Art museum patron is sucker for adorable pig

So I was down in Forest Park yesterday to check out Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea at the St. Louis Art Museum, and it was great. The show includes dozens of pieces of Mayan art related to the sea, rain, animals, and the gods that have never been shown in the United States before.

There are crocodile sculptures, funerary statues, duck-head vases, a pelican head…frankly it was a bit overwhelming because almost every piece has a rich mythic backstory and is executed with fine and complicated detailing. The whole time I was mesmerized by geometric configurations, stories of gods emerging from sharks, the idea of a cosmic turtle, and just how lovely a bloodletting ritual could be. Honestly, I need to go back to take it all in more fully. But I’m running out of time because the show is only in St. Louis until May 8…and then the world ends in 2012.

But it wasn’t until I hit the show’s gift shop that I became a true sucker. Usually I fly right past all the goodies laid out to tempt museum goers, but not this time. Delicately placed on a pedestal at the front of the store was a basket of adorable three-legged ceramic pigs from Chile called chanchitos. The name comes from the diminutive of chancho, which is a word in parts of Latin America for “pig” (both the four-legged version and the guy who your mother always warned you about). Normally the word chanchito refers to a piggy bank, but the chanchitos at the art museum were ceramic art obejects made in Pomaire, Chile that are exchanged between family and friends as good luck symbols. I was smitten and had to have one. And personally, I don’t think there is a luckier or more attractive swine than the one my wife and I picked out of that sales basket. (Though this Facebook page would take issue with us.)

Chanchito con sus nuevos amigos

Bringing our chanchito home made me do a little more investigation into Pomaire. The village is about 60 km west of Santiago and is home to some really amazing potters and pottery studios. It is also famous for its almost two-pound empanadas. My goodness, it’s almost lunch time and I’m ready to book a flight to Chile right now! (Here’s a great blog about the cuisine of the village and how to cure any cooking vessels you might buy there on a future trip.)

(Five-minute video en español on pottery arts in Pomaire).

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Parroquia Santa Cecilia “Mexican Fish Fry”

I finally got off my rear and did something last night that I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years now: attend the famous “Mexican Fish Fry” at St. Cecilia’s Church (Parroquia Santa Cecilia) in South St. Louis City. And I made it just in time…it was the last one of the year!

In the last few years St. Louis has been catching up with all the other urban centers in the United States by attracting a large influx of hispanic and latino immigrants. This new population has centered its spiritual life around St. Cecilia’s Church, a once dying parish that is now thriving again because of this new membership. So a couple of years ago the church decided to revive its defunct Friday Lenten fish fry…only with a Mexican twist. Yes, you can get fried fish, shrimp, and the like…but the menu also features handmade chiles rellenos, tostadas, and quesadillas with a side of rice and beans. There are also Latin American dancers, a trio of Mexican musicians, and lots of Cerveza Tecate.

I had heard that the wait for food could be long—and they weren’t kidding! Exactly two hours and seventeen minutes passed between the moment my friends and I first got into line and the time two fresh-faced school children set our plates down in front of us. But no worries…there are plenty of chips and salsa, tamales, and beer stands, as well as aural and visual delights, to savor while slowly snaking through the school’s gym to place your dinner order.

Quesadilla frita, tostada, refried beans, and rice.

A lot of love and preparation for the event clearly came from the Latino community—Spanish menus were plastered to the walls and adornments of Mexican and Latin American culture were everywhere. However, gringos easily outnumbered Latinos at the event by at least a 10 to 1 margin. I hope that’s a sign that my little city is growing up and finally embracing diversity…but I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to practice my language skills with anyone or anything other than the menu and deciphering the romantic lyrics of the singers.

A revolutionary drink

I met some friends for drinks last night at the Royale in el sur de la ciudad de San Luis (South St. Louis City). The place is known for its unusual cocktails, and there was one that immediately caught my eye: the Soulard Sling. One of the ingredients in this drink is Angostura bitters, a liquor which has an interesting place in Latin American history.

Angostura was developed by a German doctor named Johann Siegert in the early 1820s while he was living in Venezuela. He had moved to that country to help famed South American liberator Simón Bolívar fight against the Spanish crown and establish his Gran Colombia state. Bolívar was a creole from an aristocratic family, and he discovered the power of racism and oppression during a visit to Spain in his young adulthood. During that trip, he was stripped of his goods and put in jail basically for being a creole with nice stuff. In that one act, Spain had created their own worst enemy. Bolívar would help liberate five different South American countries, and he is still celebrated today in South America as the key to independence on the continent.

During Bolívar’s revolutionary days, Johann Siegert served as his Surgeon General at a military hospital in the city of Angostura, Venezuela—hence the name of the bitters. (By the way, the city of Angostura is now known as Ciudad Bolívar.) He was trying to develop a medicinal potion to use with his patients when he came up with a recipe for aromatic bitters instead. Shortly thereafter, he began exporting the stuff. And by 1850, Angostura was popular enough that Siegert resigned his military post to dedicate his time solely to manufacturing and selling his creation. Its production is still overseen by the Siegert family today.

Dr. Johann Siegert

As for the Soulard Sling, like Bolívar’s passion for South American independence and liberty, it was strong stuff. But like his dream for a unified South America, the drink fell apart for me by the end. Too much bitters is not a good thing.

Dulce de Crazy

When mi esposa got back to the US from studying in Argentina back in the late 90s, she spun wonderful tales of an exotic sweet treat called dulce de leche. At the time, I had never heard of the stuff. Now I feel like I can’t walk two feet without having a dulce-de-leche-flavored goodie in my face: ice cream, pudding, muffins, power bars, and even Girl Scout cookies!

Now I’m not complaining. I love the stuff! And if you’re one of the unlucky few who has yet to try it, I’ll let you know that it’s a milk-based product that has some similarities to caramel…but is so much better. Go try some! But what brought about this latest craze in the US? The whole thing reminds me just how derivative US product development can be. One hamburger place has mini-burgers…boom! they all do. One place serves extra-thin-crust pizza, tomorrow it’s everywhere. The same thing seems to have happened with dulce de leche. Who started this food fad? And does it really matter? While you ponder that, why not try making some on your own. Here’s a particularly quick and easy method…

¡Arriba! Chapter 6 : La Comida : Spanish Food Vocabulary

Luckily, my first chapter working in ¡Arriba! begins just where I left off with Sol y viento…food. But who wants to stick with just the textbook? Unfortunately, when you want to go beyond your book for expanded vocabulary and better comprehension, it’s hard to find more than just long vocabulary lists on the web. And while there’s nothing wrong with lists, I find it hard to make those words stick when I have no phrase, context, or tangible object with which to associate them. Nonetheless, there are some nice collections of food words out there, like this one at vocab.co.uk (be warned that this particular page includes some words—el zumo, la patata, etc.—that are peninsular Spanish and not generally used in the Americas). But for me, I keep returning to the wonderful land of YouTube.

There are a couple of types of YouTube videos out there that can help a beginning student. The first are videos made by educators or language instruction sites. Most of them are just rehashes of vocabulary lists with some generic pictures thrown up on screen for association reasons. But better than most are Señor Jordan‘s short bits, like this one on vegetables.

But of course, there are some really bad educational videos out there too, and they always seem to come in the form of songs. Maybe this diddy that burrows into your brain and refuses to come out helps you, but for me it’s just…

Personally, I find the best way to learn vocabulary and context is by watching kids shows like Pocoyo. Generally new words and grammar are easy to grab, and the dialog isn’t so advanced that the student finds herself lost in a narrative wilderness. However, I will be the first to admit that kids shows aren’t always super interesting (Pocoyo excluded). So perhaps I should start looking for a telenovela that takes place in restaurant instead. Until I find it, enjoy Pocoyo’s imaginary restaurant, as well as two educational videos aimed at kids. By the way, the last one left me wondering just what the heck the Arizona Nutrition Network is.