Old Habits and All That

February 1, 2017

I think I started this trip to better my Spanish and see some new things, but now that I’m in South America, I really don’t remember anymore. I’ve come to notice that my mind is very different depending on my surroundings. I don’t know if it’s universal or if I’m especially subject to it, but I know that I welcome the change.

My Spanish learning still has a long way to go, but my first forays into the language were from trying to learn about food. Since I didn’t know any Spanish before I my first trip to Colombia, much of that vocabulary has very close ties to this place.

Old habits do seem to die hard. I can’t help but break out my camera and pen when I encounter new foods or somebody knowledgeable enough to dole out a little information.

Over dinner last night from Arepa Paisa in Villa de Leyva with Josue of Ova Organic, I got an update to my empanada knowledge. I’m pretty sure that I can still state that an empanada refers very generally to the edible food packaging arrangement–like a sandwich–whereby a crust holds a filling, but teasing out specific classifications is really difficult. I have the same problem with arepas; I can’t write about the differing types if I have no nomenclature to start from. I’d asked if the corn-based empanadas we were eating were empanadas caleñas (empanadas from Santiago de Cali), he said it’s best to refer to them as empanadas vallunas which uses the name of the department that Cali resides in (Valle del Cauca) rather than the city itself. Moreover these empanadas necessarily contain potatoes. My original Cali-born empanada informant omitted this fact and the alternate name. In my experience, food-related information here seems to differ along regional lines.

I’m never going to get a solid answer on the feijoa/frejoa debate. If you listen to someone mention this guava relative in passing, it really sounds like “frejoa” even around here in Villa de Leyva. (Originally I thought that this was just something that occurred around Bogotá.) But if you stop and specifically ask whether it’s “feijoa” or “frejoa,” both will be tossed around–depending on the differing ages in your present company–and you’ll start an argument that gets settled with “feijoa” being the actual name.

halved frejoa

I really love this fruit. I’ve never seen it outside of Colombia. I thought that was the rule for the longest time, but I probably just didn’t pay attention. In the last couple of years I’ve seen lulos in Austin, TX and tomates de arbol in NYC. Both are alright fruits, but I’m certain the best of them stay in Colombia. I’d heard an anecdote once that Colombia produces the most guavas (or here, guayabas) of any nation in the world, but domestic consumption is so high that none of them leave the country.

I’m pretty sure uchuvas are grown and grown in the States now, but they have some stupid anglo name. I can’t even look at them. They’re probably sold in their calyx to look more exotic. I hate to be so fruit-elitist, but uchuvas were my first favorite fruit in Colombia, and I remember our first encounter romantically. Just like Villa de Leyva, I’m choosing to remember them as they were and not as they are or will be.

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