Food Series: The Bpum-Coban

Whenever I call friends and family back in the US, one of the first questions inquiring minds want an answer to is

                                                                     “What do you eat?”
This post is my attempt to start a mini series on the cuisine I enjoy while living in Coban.  I have struggled to pull this series together because I found the task daunting.  People want to know more specifically, what food options are available (at least that’s what I assume).  That meant I had to explore the market, patronize local restaurants and comedors (small eateries where local people eat, the prices are typically significantly lower than those of restaurants that tourists flock to for “authentic” cuisine) and ask tons of questions of strangers when something caught my eye.  That has taken me some time because I initially thought I would roll-out tons of food options in one blog post.  I found that the idea of this huge, food cloud hanging over me, made me avoid blogging altogether. I dash when a task seems overwhelming.  Instead of an overly ambitious mega post, I will write about one food option at a time.  If you are guilty of thinking that my blog posts are too long, you’re in luck because I imagine the single-subject-food posts will be short and sweet.  Well maybe not this one because I have to ease you into it, introduce you to the new series, ya’ know, prep you for what’s to come!
The first thing I have decided to write about was something I ate today because… I ate it today and it’s fresh in my mind.
It was a plantain empanada.
Let’s talk about how I ended up with this semi-sweet treat.  I was working from the restaurant located in front of my hotel this morning.  I sat at my computer typing away, completing my daily tasks when an older, white-haired Guatemalan fella joined me.  He was a friend to the owner of the hotel.  He was making small talk as he enjoyed his coffee and prepared to head out.
Daily, a local woman dressed in ropa tipico4b621841972db8291794b0df7142ddaa--america-america-central-america walks up to the locked gate leading into the restaurant.  Atop her head she carries a wooden, woven circular basket covered in local hand-woven textile that protects the homemade delicacies, still warm to the touch, housed inside. She lowers the basket onto her hip as she props one foot up on the second of three rusted-brown colored, painted steps.  She announces the item of the day and one by one people file in line at the gate to peek in the corner of the vibrant fabric that she slightly opens to expose what’s inside.
I wasn’t interested in purchasing anything because I was still working on the breakfast that I’d cooked.  The older gentleman asked me, “how many empanadas would you like?” “None”, I responded with a grin.  At a price of 1 quetzal-the equivalent of $0.13, he insisted that I try one.  He purchased 5 and sat the goodie bag in front of me.  I removed one from the steam-filled plastic bag with a smile and a “thank you”.  He walked off and said “enjoy”, as the steam from the empanada filled my curious nostrils.
I am always skeptical of trying things I know nothing about.  Before you think I’m “closed-minded” allow me to explain.  While in Costa Rica in May, I got cryptosporidium and was extremely sick for other a month.  So sick that I recall lying on the cold, white, sterile emergency room floor because my stomach felt like it was wrestling with my intestines.  Every since then, I’ve been hyper-alert about where my food comes from, who prepared it, and whether bottled or filtered water was used in the preparation process while traveling in other countries.  Until you’ve experienced pains that replicate your stomach choking itself, I don’t want to hear it.
The empanada was still warm so I assumed it was freshly made and that whatever bacteria was lingering must’ve died.  Heat kills that sort of stuff right?
I took a bite and immediately was impressed.  The woman who prepared the treat was gone so I couldn’t ask her how she made it, or what was in it so I closed my eyes and used my incredible chef’s palate.
[clears throat]
Semi sweet, I definitely taste the plantain
Hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, maybe allspice as well
The consistency is smooth and firm not slimy and mushy
The inside is the color of a McDonald’s chicken nugget
I would guess that the snack is formed into a ball , flour may be used to bind the mixture together and deep-fried in oil
Then drained, it’s not greasy at all and doesn’t leave a greasy film in my mouth

Now I have absolutely NO IDEA how this plantain empanada was actually made. But I am a pretty darn good cook so I know the basics of how to prepare things.  The empanada reminds me of a dense donut made with some sort of spiced plantain mixture.
I ate one with my breakfast, and one for a snack with a piece of fruit and fresh fruit juice after the gym.  That leaves me with three as my mouth waters and I try to exercise will power.  I plan on reheating one in the morning with my breakfast, enjoying another with my post-gym snack and sharing the last one with someone else so I don’t feel like I’ve completely sabotaged my healthy eating habits.

More food stories to come!

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