Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eat Week Two

The day of eternal chewing.

The other place I went during Eat Week is called "El Nuevo Paraiso".

I have a review from a couple years ago, one that was published on a now-defunct web site, or I'd link to it. Anyway, it clued me a bit to the location, style, and conventions of the place.

Sort of.

It is another vegetarian joint.

I went there twice during Eat Week (Tuesday and Thursday).

El Nuevo Paraiso is all Ecuadorian. The TV is on, always turned up to 13, and me with the one ear and all, it's kind of a soundscape adventure.

Tuesday, on my first visit, I went in and stood staring like an idiot (something I'm actually good at) toward the menu, again a menu on a wall, with pictures.

From the pictures you can't tell anything, really. I can't. So, on to step two.

The woman at the "caja" ("box", or "cash register") came out of her cage right smartly when she realized I needed professional help.

She headed for me with a ruler in her hand, but she didn't whup me. Instead she started slapping the ruler at the various pictures, jabbering at me in Spanish. I think it was Spanish because that's what they talk around here when their mouths are open. It's like a tradition.

But with only the one partly-good ear and all, and the TV glowing red from the mass quantities of electrons flowing through the speaker, and the traffic noises, I couldn't really tell.

It could have been Tagalog. But probably not, you know. Probably Spanish, which I am not any good at yet. Which is why I said "jabbering". These days even English, which I've been immersed in for decades, is also jabbering. I'm losing it, ear-wise.

So to get her to stop slapping the pictures I finally said "Sí" at the last one she hit. Like I had caught on when she walloped the picture of my dreams.

She seemed relieved at that point. Relieved that she could stop slapping the wall and put her arm down and get on with things.

So that was phase one. Phase two involved ceviche.

I'd heard about their ceviche from the review I mentioned. I wanted to try that, being a ceviche virgin and all, so I asked for that too.

Result: more jabbering. Aimed in my general direction. I'd confused her.

This little old stupid gringo guy comes in and at first seems convinced to buy the stuff she's been slapping with her ruler, and then he orders ceviche instead.

No. Tambien. He wants both? Sí, he wants both.

Ah, even more crazy, this guy.

Since I was able to put $4.00 of actual money into her hand she decided that the deal had finally escalated into her pay grade, which is to take orders and get money, not to educate fools, so she calmed down about then. Somewhat.

And since I also mumbled "tengo hambre" (literally "I have hunger", or, more naturally, "I'm hungry"), she decided that I was not only crazy but probably creepy enough not to mess with any more, so after tucking the money away safely she wrote my order for two lunches on a piece of paper the size of a bubble gum wrapper and handed it to me.

Almost immediately, before I could figure out what to do next, someone else came along and took the scrap of paper, and then disappeared into the back.

OK, then.

About two minutes passed and then something happened.

The thing that happened is that a basket arrived, containing a knife, a fork, a spoon, and a napkin. And a bowl of cold soup, about six ounces worth (but separate, not in the basket). I decide to wait and see.

What I saw was nothing. For a few minutes. Then something else happened.

Which was that a plate of stuff arrived, just like the one the woman had been slapping with her ruler. It had rice, a slab of breaded and fried fake mystery meat, a bunch of vegetables, some more vegetables, and yet more other vegetable-like things.

So I began poking. Hmmm.

Then a big bowl of ceviche arrived, with another plate of rice.

I decided to start with the first bowl of soup, since it got to me first, and looked good.

Kind of pink, I think.

Damn.

Just about the best thing I've had in Ecuador.

Room temperature, creamy-white-pinkish, with bits of floating herbs, and with thin onion strips too.

Spicy. Very spicy. I could have eaten about half a gallon, but stopped after consuming half the bowl, and shifted my attention to the plate.

Roughly at about this time I noticed that the guy at the next table seemed to be keeping an eye on me, so I began to wonder.

But usually it's best to act like you know what you're doing, so I tried that and went at the plate full of vegetables and artificial mystery meat.

Which was good.

All of it was good, but mostly pretty bland.

The vegetables seemed like steamed vegetables. Cooked, warm, wet, and crunchy. Not much more.

There was a lot of what looked like vegetable pearls in there, pale, smooth, wet, crunchy. In a steamed-vegetable way.

This must have been more mote, the corn kernels they eat here. Roughly pea-sized but not pea-like otherwise, and not corn-like. Mote-like, I guess. New to me.

After a while I tried the ceviche, which was rich and full of mushrooms and things, and mostly (to me) not so flavorful. But maybe it's just me.

So after several hours of chewing I was around a quarter the way through my food. Even the ceviche had to be chewed.

Lots of chewing.

Lots and lots of chewing, of things that had little flavor (to me). Except that soup. The first bowl of soup.

Dawn began to break.

I began to wonder if that first bowl of exquisite soup might have in fact been a bowl of sauce.

The guy at the next table was still discreetly watching me. I thought. Perhaps hoping to discover the secret of craziness among gringos.

Meanwhile, I continued to eat. Like I've eaten all of this before and am willing to teach the world the right way, with crazy veteran confidence.

One part of my act was to take my small bowl of cold spicy soup and ladle it onto the tasteless vegetables. Lots of it. Which helped.

But then, driven by food lust, I made the mistake of eating the rest of said spicy soup with a spoon, leaving at least two thirds of my vegetables in their original, wet, taste-free state.

Too bad.

On the other hand, I do know how to pack it away, after countless years of gut stuffing. So I did that, but got really tired of chewing.

Unfortunately, the only way out of the place was through chewing.

So I did more of that.

Eventually it was all over except for licking my plate and the two bowls. I passed on that. For some reason.

Maybe I'll do it next time.

But well before I finished, one of the staff stopped by the table of Mr Other Guy for some reason. And when she left him she put his bowl of soup on my table.

The small bowl, of pinkish, cold soup, from his table.

I guessed this was either a taunt or a jest.

Maybe a salute.

Who can say?

Anyway, I was not about to finish his meal for him, so after a minute of continued chewing I gently pushed his bowl away from my plate and ignored it. I had serious chewing of my own to finish.

I guess the good news is that no one came after me with a stick. Or a ruler. Or a bowl of sauce. (Except as already related, above.) And Mr Other Guy left before I did, probably so he could go tell everyone his new stupid-crazy gringo story.

Four bucks worth of eats is a lot around here, if you go where Joe Ecuadorian goes.

Consequently I waddled the half mile back to my place, but not without one more encounter.

This one I regret. Oh, my, do I.

A lovely young woman (Maybe a third of my age, OK?), stopped me and seemed to ask for directions, in Spanish, that being what they do here, as I've already stated.

All I could do was apologize and say that I speak very little Spanish and then turn and wobble down the street, bumping into signposts and whatnot, due to a severe ballast imbalance achieved during lunch, while chewing.

Back at my room I dug out a map and figured out that the part I understood ("Simón Bolívar"), was a street in the direction opposite to the one the woman had been going.

If only I'd had my map.

I mean, just to be helpful.

I could have stumbled along in Spanish well enough to have figured out what she wanted, pointed to where we were, and to where she needed to go, and then I could have given her the map. And been a nice guy.

Crazy. Ugly. Stupid and all, but kind of nice in my own road-accident sort of way.

But no.

That didn't happen either.

So.

Two days later I went back to "El Nuevo Paraiso", expecting perhaps an armed mob. Nope.

No flamethrowers. No one throwing rocks. No nothing, much.

It did require three people to take my order though.

Even though I chose the "Menú de Hoy" ("Daily Special", usually written as "Menú del Día") from the whiteboard out front.

With one ear, no Spanish, and the TV up around 13.5 (maybe 14), things get dicey, quick.

I had my $2.00 out (in dollar coins, which they like here), and was ready to pay and all, but hadn't heard anyone say anything that I could recognize.

One of the women was talking at me, and so was another one, and the third, she was talking and writing out "$1.80" on a scrap of paper. For my edification. Since even if I was so stupid as to not speak or even comprehend any known language, then surely I could still respond to "$1.80" if written out. Which here translates to "$1,80", but even I am bright enough to follow that.

No. My problem was not-paying-attention, plus hearing three people and a TV all talking at once. Into my one ear.

But.

I finally caught on.

I handed over my money and things calmed down. No more ruler-slapping, at least that day.

What I had ordered was:

  • Entrada: Col morada con de mayonesa (Cabbage with mayonnaise)
  • Sopa: Mote con frejol (Mote with beans)
  • Segundo: Tallarin chino con llapingacho (Chinese macaroni with llapingacho)
  • Juego: Colada (Literally, "wash", but essentially the "colada" in "piƱa colada", I think)
  • And a bowl of sauce came with it (Joy!)

About col morada con de mayonesa: I've never had cabbage like this before. Amazing. I don't know if the mayonesa was mayonnaise or twice-refined axle grease, but I want more. Sort of almost warm, not room temperature, which slight warmth made it so friendly.

The soup (Mote con frejol) was fine and smooth. Like bean soup containing imaginary corn. Imaginary mote corn. Not corny or crunchy or lumpy or anything bad. Fine and smooth.

The "Chinese macaroni" looked like spaghetti to me. Long and noodly. Noodly. I liked that.

The llapingacho was a potatoey and yammy something. Yellowish inside, with a nice crust around the outside. There were rice and vegetables too.

The juice looked synthetic. Not sure about it.

Something like lemonade mix with artificial cinnamon in it. Something like what you'd get if you ground Dentyne gum into a powder and mixed a lot of it into cloudy pink sugary water.

Then again it may have been dilute fruit juice. It had some kind of pulp at the bottom, and was not chilled. I didn't want it but thought it would be disrespectful to leave it either untouched or half-drunk so I drank it all.

No unexpected side effects to report.

Bowl of sauce.

Ah.

This time, instead of asking for a straw, or drinking it straight from the bowl, I dished out the whole of it onto the rice and vegetables.

Smart move.

It perked up everything.

Made the whole meal amazing (except for the juice problem, of course).

Tangy. Spicy. Almost peppery. I still want a half gallon of that sauce straight some day. All to myself. Even if it kills me.

There are worse ways to go (all the other ways).

So, a really fine, filling meal for $1.80.

I'll be going back every now and then as long as they keep serving sauce and don't come at me with sticks and knives.

Or maybe even if they do. Hey.

Week one...

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