Food is a touchy subject anywhere, far from being merely a source of energy and nutrients, it is intricately linked to identity, emotions, feelings of well-being. Every country has its staple food; in India it is rice and dahl, in Germany it is bread and cheese, and here it is Gallo Pinto: essentially rice and beans made separately and then friend again together, often with onion and bell pepper. Nicaraguans are very proud of their Gallo Pinto, claiming it to be much superior to the rice and beans from Honduras and the beans and rice from Costa Rica. Just how important it really is became apparent on a recent trip I took with my friends….
“The gas just went out.”
“Nope, the gas tank is empty, the oven has been off for a while and now the elements aren’t working.”
This was quite possible one of the worst things that could happen at this very moment. I was standing in my kitchen, which I had turned into a disaster zone. Flour was everywhere, half cooked empanada fillings on the stove, rolled out lines of pastery on the counter. Two days ago, when we were planning our friends birthday, Annelore and I had offered to make breakfast. The idea was to go to our friends coffee farm about 90 minutes away, party all night and then hike to a waterfall the next morning. For months Annelore and I had been dreaming about having a real European breakfast buffet: homemade yogurt and granola, fresh fruit, sourdough bread, cold cuts, jam, coffee and because we figured we should throw in something slightly more catered to our Nicaraguan friends tastes we decided to make empanadas- a south American type of meat-filled pastry. To make sure they were fresh we decided to make them day of. Retrospectively in a country in which nothing really every works completely on time, it was a bad idea. However we were saved, this time, by sporadic phone-calls, lots of shouting, my host-sisters boyfriend and the fact that we didn’t depart on time anyway.
So fast-forward to the next morning. I roll out of my hammock after a very cold night on my friend’s absolutely gorgeous coffee farm. The father, that lives in an adjacent building has been up since 5am and has made a huge cauldron of coffee, which sits beside the huge pan of Gallo Pinto – the two things that form the base of breakfast in Nicaragua. I fill up our thermoses for coffee and when I return, Annelore has laid out the table with this huge spread and everyone seems to be happily eating away. However sometime throughout breakfast I become aware of some subtle nudges and looks and one by one, all of my Nicaraguan friends slip out.
“Juan, where is everybody going?” I stop my friend as he is about to go down the stairs
“Oh just..nowehere.” He gives me a vague answer and tries to change the subject.
I have a vague inkling and grab one of the coffee thermoses. “I am going to go fill this up,” I say, heading towards the fathers kitchen.
“Oh but don’t…you see it’s just….” I enter into the kitchen to a row of faces, staring back at me over a heaping plate of Gallo Pinto.
I am annoyed for about a grand total of 3 seconds, which slowly changes to amusement. Of course, in a country where people sometimes eat Gallo Pinto up to three times a day, one needs to eat Gallo Pinto, or else one will have not technically eaten. This is more than true after waking up hungry and hung-over. So really at this point there is only one thing you can do.
“How is it?” I ask, taking a spoonful of it into my mouth.
And you know what? As long as I am not eating it 3 meals a day, every day, it’s actually pretty good.