Posts Tagged ‘Ecuador’

la mejor tortilla de huevos: una aventura en curso


Como muchos niños de siete años, mi papá era mi figura heroica última. Él no podría hacer ningún mal, decir ningún mal, y siempre me llenaba de fascinación. Él también era un cuentista asombroso. Las historias de mi padre no eran sobre monstruos que él combatió con espadas o criaturas míticas con las que él se alineó para salvar el universo. Los cuentos de aventura de mi padre eran todos verdaderos. Nacido en Israel, Palestina en aquel entonces, en 1933, el lugar de mi papá en la historia le dio un primer puesto para contra unas verdaderas aventuras.

Yo siempre escuchaba atentamente, adhieriendo en su cada palabra como si mi vida dependió de ello. Sus historias donde siempre eran tejidas con comida de alguna clase. El Pie de Merengue de Limón increíble de su madre es uno de aquellos que se repetia mucho en sus cuentos. Nadie, por lo visto, podría duplicarlo. Él volvería a casa despues de alguna clase de travesura con su primo Rafi y allí estaría el pie de merengue de su madre: la combinación perfecta de tarta y caramelo y espuma disfrutada en mordiscos irremplazables. El recuento del sitio de Jerusalén criaría más memorias de comida. El camino que sube hasta la ciudad fue cerrado por la batalla y poco alimento estaba disponible, entonces mi padre contaria de comidas de hierba, té y para los afortunados, restos de algún tipo de carne. (Nuestro chiste entre familia era que esto era por qué mi padre estuvo tan obsesionado con tener la nevera llena de comida como un adulto. Lo llamamos su Complejo de Sitio de Jerusalén.) Él habló del papel histórico de su padre Isaac Abbady como el traductor oficial para el gobierno británico en Palestina, donde todos los jugadores, del Británico, a los Judíos a los Árabes, parecidos de alguna manera dependiente en las interpretaciones inteligentes y exactas de este hombre. Por supuesto, igualmente fascinante era la obsesión de mi abuelo con Cacciocavallo, un queso de cabra salado que él freiría en mordeduras crujientes. Este era la materia de la película perfecta y me llegaba directamente por el entusiasmo interminable que provocó los ojos color de avellana de mi padre.

Entonces había cuentos estilo James-Dean sobre mi padre. Su mudanza audaz a Nueva York como un empresario joven y todos los desafíos y éxitos que provocaron, la lista interminable de mujeres de colegio finos americanos que él hipnotizó, y luego la cita ciega que casi no pasó con una mujer joven llamada Marilyn que terminó por parar su corazón con su sonrisa hermosa, figura elegante, ingenio agudo e inteligencia sin paralela. Marilyn sólo reemplazaba su compañera de cuarto que habia cancelada a ultimo momento. Marilyn realmente no tuvo ganas de ir, pero fue de todos modos, ella era esa clase de amiga: leal y amable. Por suerte aquella reunión movió una serie de acontecimientos que conducirían al matrimonio y finalmente a mí. ¡Por supuesto, durante este cacho importante de su historia, muchas comidas fueron compartidas, pero el que se atiene a la mayor parte de historias es el Arroz español famoso de Marilyn, un guisado de picadillo, arroz, pimientas verdes y especias, que era todo lo que sabía preparar!

Mi papá tiene 76 años ahora y todavía logra encontrar aventura. Los cuentos lo siguen dondequiera que él vaya. La comida es todavía una parte integrante de su día: si ello frotar hombros con vendedores de mercado ecuatorianos locales donde él vende sus perritos calientes cada sábado, leyendo detenidamente uno de los libros de cocina que adornan su biblioteca, o preparando su tortilla magníficas que se revientan con hierbas frescas y quesos. Siento lo mismo sobre esta tortilla de huevos que él sobre el pie de merengue de limón de su madre: nunca habrá un tan sabroso. Cuando pienso en él a menudo me pregunto de que comida estara disfrutando: esto es una tierra sólida que siempre teníamos, a pesar de muchos otros altibajos. Esto es una obsesión que él ayudó a pasarme (y me atrevo a decir, como él, se ha conocido que yo me pregunto en voz alta durante el almuerzo lo que tendremos para la cena). Y pase lo que pase, siempre, siempre, me hace falta su tortilla.

crème bavaria: closing the gap on a full stomach

creme-bavariaI could say if I just look at the slope of her nose (ever so slight with a generous finish) I’d recognize that it is exactly like mine and unmistakably connect us but I know what you are thinking: there is so much more to a face, so many more crevices and cracks to throw you off course. You’d say the eyes, the chin, even the hair. And I’d agree, one cannot gage another by merely the slope of the nose but in this case it really is all it took.  Because when she turned and I saw her profile, I saw myself in her; ten, maybe fifteen years earlier I was there, only with different colored hair and different colored eyes but still me and I knew right then and there, that even though we never crossed paths before, we were indeed sisters.

Of course, the story doesn’t start or end there.  There are many hurdles and heartbreak and mending when one learns one’s father has led a double life and has a whole separate family as a result. It took years to get here and years I was grateful my mother was not alive to live this.  But the slope of the nose is where we met and it was followed by the big-hearted smile and the prominent chin:  all trademarks of my father’s Abbady genes I had thought for the most part of my life I carried alone only to quickly learn those traits where clearly molded on one of my half-sister’s face as well.

We met on a chilly foggy night in the Andean city of Quito, the remote spot my father had picked to form another life that on this memorable night merged with mine.  There was too much past to clutter a future with these two young women, my two half-sisters I never knew about, and so it was time to move forward together. 

And with the reliable mediator of food, we did.  To begin with, there was the fact that I had landed on the equator, which opened up the door to plenty of exotic and delightful Amazonian fruit with equally strange names such as parcha, tomate de arbol, and naranjillo.  There were many I had already encountered growing up in Venezuela such as maracuya (passion fruit) and mora (blackberry), all of which begged to be gobbled up with nothing but impulsiveness and greed.  All my mother’s proper Philadelphia stock was put to shame as I dropped any social etiquette and lost myself in a world of sweetness and flowers and juice which I couldn’t fully experience without fingers, extra drool and a very drippy chin.  To think Eden lost it all for a measly apple?  Oh the damage that could have happened here!

We had the fortune of our visit coinciding with Semana Santa (Holy Week), which, in a country where Roman Catholicism reigns, is taken very seriously, right down to the food.  Large makeshift shacks abound housing sweaty women stirring big pots of fanesca, a traditional hearty soup served during this meat-prohibited time consisting of beans and dried cod and garnished with eggs, fried plantains, heart of palm, and (if you’re fortunate) fried cheese empanadas.  You can pick any crowded intersection in Quito, drag a dirty plastic chair up to the communal table and dig in alongside businessmen in grey Armani suits, families overflowing with children, or curious tourists like me.

 There were other succulent flavors with the indelible stamp of Ecuador: Ceviche de Camaron, plump, marinated shrimp swimming in a bath of citrus, cilantro and red peppers or Encocado, which translates to “in coconut” and is the country’s trademark fish dish of sea bass bathed in fresh coconut sauce served alongside fried green plantains and a big mound of white rice.  Salchipapas, the popular street food consisting of thick slices of fried hotdogs served on a bed of French fries and coated with your choice of pink, yellow or spicy aji sauce easily elevated frankfurters to a whole other level.

Of course, we ate our way through any awkwardness, quietly comparing notes of our parallel lives guided by the same patriarch and by the end of each meal we were fuller and better for it, one step closer to closing the enormous gap of secrecy and time that lay before us.  And then we had our Passover dinner, the ultimate family meal for a group learning to be a family.  There was laughter and prayers and countless glasses of sickly sweet wine, and then, alas, there was food, lots and lots of food.  My sister and half-sisters where all there, the children ran around freely and my father, with his partner Lucia by his side, had a twinkle in his eye I hadn’t seen in years.  And just as this strange trip began to settle into a faint sense of normalcy, something happened that seemed to seal the deal:

                        Dessert was served.

And not just any dessert.  A delicious dessert. A wonderous dessert.  A very Abbady dessert.  Something I could see my aunt Miriam present in her cramped Jerusalem apartment along with a pot of Café Turki.  After all, this was Crème Bavaria, an Israeli favorite.

The ethereal square of white gently drizzled with rich chocolate and dusted with a bit of chopped walnuts was placed before me.  Lucia sat humbly next to my father, weathering the silence of a group of already tough critics.  Her eyes jumped nervously between my sister and I and our families as she contended with the room’s silence.  But the silence was soon broken by harmonious oohs and ahhs as, one by one, we all fell prey to the smooth and light creaminess of her Crème Bavaria, quickly and gently forgiving the misstep of using leavening during Passover as we bit into the rum-infused sponge cake resting on the bottom. 

It was an instant of wonder and hope where I realized that as painful and real as many of the circumstances that created this group where, there was a chance that through such delicious moments, things could and should get better.  My half-sister and I were sitting across each other.  Half way through our dessert, among the buzz of contentment, our eyes met and we grinned the same grin.  We were both blissfully stuffing ourselves with Crème Bavaria, making a start in the right direction guided by a happy, full stomach.