Wednesday, May 6, 2009

¡Buen Provecho!

(Photo courtesy of because we ate ours before I could take a picture.)

Over our first dinner at Hotelito Perdido in Rio Dulce, I learned a new phrase. Buen provecho. It’s what Spanish speakers say when they serve food or before eating. The Spanish girls Elena and Belen then asked us how to translate it. Thanks to Jesse and Aska’s amazing Spanish, I learned that translated buen provecho means something like good benefit but that doesn’t make sense in English. So we began to discuss English alternatives. I offered up Bon Appetite but that’s French. How about Dig in? Rub a dub dub thanks for the grub? Not the right sentiment. For Spanish speakers saying Buen Provecho before eating is like saying Hello when answering the phone. It’s a polite greeting as well as a warm invitation to enjoy your food. On my 3rd day of Spanish lessons, I got my first chance to use this phrase.

After 4 hours of verb tenses, vocabulary, reading and speaking, Karina gave me a lesson in Guatemalteca cuisine and how to prepare a dish called Pepian – a sort of chicken curry. But before we could start cooking we had to buy the ingredients. We headed to the market and I watched her pick out the ingredients (many of which I'd never used before), bargaining with the women to get the best price. I was a little worried about how I was going to pay for all the food. Due to our bank machine problems I only had about $3 but it covered all the spices, veg, rice, and chicken. Wow, I think I should try the market more often for shopping.

Then it was back at the school to start cooking. It was fairly easy to make but required a bit of time and thanks to something the owner of the school said to Karina she was stressed and trying to hurry which meant she did most of the cooking. And then when she was done, we laid out three servings which I thought were for her, Adrian and I. But one was for the owner of the school not Karina. Who wished us Bueno Provecho before leaving. And that made me feel weird. I wanted us to sit down and enjoy it together instead I felt like I’d just had a staff member cooking for me. Poor Karina. Thankfully, Adrian and I didn’t have to awkwardly eat with the owner so we got to enjoy it. And it was truly delicious. Better yet, we had enough for left overs.

But once we were done, the uncomfortable feeling came back. Not with Karina or anything to do with the classes – they were great – but with the owner and the way she treated the staff like her personal servants. She left post it notes were left around the school with a to do list and at first I they were complaints about us. And then there was what I can best describe as a shaming chart in the kitchen which listed things that hadn’t been done and who had forgotten to do them. The staff weren’t children in fact they were super nice older women who acted like mom and secondary Spanish teachers to all of us students. The owner however, was a woman in her 20s from a wealthy local family and I think her actions said more about her immaturity than the staff’s. It really bummed me out and made me want to leave the school.

So we decided to get out for the afternoon. Plus we still had no money. So armed with our emergency traveller’s cheques, credit cards and most importantly, a Spanish-english dictionary we headed back to the parque where all the banks were clustered. And if that didn’t work Karina had told me that there was a bank machine just for foreigners up near the bus terminal. But we needed to take a bus there and I only had 25 centavos in my pocket after the market trip. Before we could worry about that we’d try all the bank machines. The first bank machine didn’t work. But at the second bank there was success. Yay, no crappy credit card accepting restaurant food for us tonight.

We rushed out excitedly to celebrate our new solvency by picking up some more groceries and a new notebook for Spanish class. Then we went out for dinner at Royal Paris – a restaurant and jazz bar up near the theatre. Of course there was no band that night but there was some really good food, almost as good as Karina’s Pepian.

And because I know you’ll ask, here’s a link to the recipe with a great instructional video. Give it a try and Buen Provecho.


Ayngelina said...

Nice recipe, I may go to Kensington this weekend to see if I can find the ingredients.

How do you like the guatemalan food? have you seen any cooking lessons? I did one in Thailand that included a market tour and it was amazing.

liz and adrian said...

You'll probably need to go to a Latin American grocery store to get things like the seeds and dried chiles - try up on Bloor Street between Bathurst and Ossington. Also you can use breadcrumbs instead of the toasted bread - it's just a thickener for the sauce.

The food so far. Get used to beans and rice - it's part of every CA country. Also mayonnaise is a big condiment here. But here's a run down of street food that we've had.

Mexico: the best street food. tacos with all sorts of fillings. I think we actually had tripe one day. But it's cheap and tasty. very spicy - so watch out what sauces you're putting on.

Belize: beans and rice is what you'll get everywhere. but at the right time of day they also do amazing barbecue. Salad is potato salad. watch out for the pickled scotch bonnet peppers. the locals eat them by the shovel full but just touching your tongue to them is enough to set your mouth on fire.

Guatemala: second to Mexico for variety. Didn't try the street food just the fancier dishes like Pepian and Jocon and those were really tasty. Although tamales are really bland.

Honduras: street food is baleadas (kind of like quesadillas) and very tasty. They also have tasty barbeque.

Nicaragua: so far the biggest street food here is hot dogs. but also saw some weird tortilla, new cheese, pickled onion thing at the ballgame but we didn't try it.

Close to the El Salvadoran border in most countries you'll get empinandas which are cheap and super tasty - served with a coleslaw (cabbage is used instead of lettuce most local places and mayonnaise is the preferred salad dressing)

Hope that helps fill your foodie quotient Ayngelina.