Days 3 & 4 – Hospitality
February 10th & 11th
We arrived at Tío Arnoldo’s house around noon. We planned to chat for half an hour or so, as we had everywhere else, and then go out for lunch. What we didn’t realize was that Arnold’s wife sent him out to pick up lunch for all of us. And twenty minutes later there we were, sitting together at the table with plates full of lasagna, fried rice, and rolls. All of which ran completely against my diet and Gertrudis’s.
As somebody who doesn’t eat meat, who almost never touches white bread/rice/pasta, these were my problems: lasagna – white pasta, ham; fried rice – white rice, pork, chicken, and at least two other unidentified forms of meat; roll – pure white flour. And Gertrudis doesn’t eat grains or dairy products or salt, ruling out…everything. So what did we both do?
We cleared our plates, of course. Not because the food was delicious, but because this family had gone out of their way to feed us. And we had a great time. Arnoldo talked about how Venezuela has become a burrocracia, where the burros, or asses, rule. We had fun with words – I invented burrología and burrólogos, the only university subject and professors that are supported by the current government.
Gertrudis and I left dizzy, feeling intoxicated – poisoned, really – by the foods we’ve avoided for so long, but one might say que valió la pena.
The next day we stopped in Cubiro, a town in the mountains near Barquisimeto, somewhere in between Bachaquero and Caracas. Our first stop looked like a scene from the Sound of Music: we walked up a rolling green hill, and from the top we saw a valley of hills surrounded by mountain peaks. A gate several meters away held in a few dairy cows, and a man came out moments later to offer us strawberries with cream, neither of which could have possibly have been any fresher. It was a beautiful break, a sharp contrast from the city, the hacienda, and the pothole-ridden highway connecting the two. After we savored our dessert, the gentleman recommended we check out a restaurant down the road and, given how much we enjoyed his dessert, we took him at his word.
The name of the restaurant – El Chupa – was mysterious to us all. (Chupar means “to suck” – you can imagine the uses of such a verb.) But our anxieties disappeared when the owner of the restaurant greeted us shouting, “My queens! My kings! Welcome! Please, sit wherever you would like and allow me to serve you.” We followed her command, then asked for her recommendations. “To the prince, I recommend the chupi-chupi.” I didn’t know what that was, but I said, “Okay! I’ll have the chupi-chupi.” Which was to say, “I will have the fried pork, plantains, black beans topped with white cheese, rice, and a salad so heavily dressed I will think it is cole slaw.”
And, what do you know? They delivered! Everything was delicious. The black beans were silky with just a touch of al dente perfection. Their smoky flavor combined perfectly with the ripe, sweet plantains and the salty, creamy fresh cheese. The pork, sliced into large cubes, was crispy and salty on the outside, while the thin strips of fat that ran throughout the inside gave the pork a melt-in-your-mouth feel. And the flavor: it suffices to say that only pork, high-quality pork, possesses the kind of flavor this possessed, the kind that is just waiting to be perceived by human taste buds.
The salad…it was cole slaw.
The meal was finished in the style that every meal in Venezuela is finished – with a shot of Venezuelan coffee, always impeccable. There are, unfortunately, shops that are now replacing their espresso machines with Nescafé coffee-pod abominations, but El Chupa served us fresh coffee with a pinch of sugar. Or a handful. The coffee might best have been described as “syrupy.”
And we drank it anyways. Who were we to turn down their hospitality?