Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Little Bit Like Ajiaco Bogatano and a Lot Like Rummikub

On the many occasions that I have been invited to Abe and Sara's over the years, I always asked her if what she was serving was representative of native Colombian cuisine. It never was, and this became a running joke: Native Colombian challah and hummus! I would say, or Oh, Colombian Coca-Cola!

I told her that one day we were going to have a meal of Colombian food, even if I had to cook it myself. Seeing as this was the last time that we (and some friends) would be sharing a shabbat meal for some time, I decided to cook Colombian cuisine as a going away present.

The problem with cooking Colombian in Israel is that a number of essential Colombian ingredients are not available in Israel, such as plantains, yuca, guascas, and so on. So I either had to choose recipes that didn't require these ingredients or substitute and fudge the flavors. My menu included Ajiaco Bogotano (chicken, corn, and potato soup with garnishes including Aji (cilatnro, pepper, and onion)), empanadas, chorizos, beef skewers, roast "Columbian-style" chicken, guacamole, hummus with roast pepper, and coconut rice, as well as salad and so on.

The results were a true mixture of classic success and failure.

Sara didn't recognize most of the dishes. What's this? she asked. When I said It's a classic Colombian dish, she would say It is? Ok, so apparently the native Colombian didn't recognize anything I cooked as actually Colombian. Luckily it was mostly tasty anyway. Sara recognized the coconut rice as Colombian, but I didn't use enough coconut milk, and she is used to a presentation that includes coconut shavings and the rice served in a ball.

My ajiaco presentation was correct. I brought out garnishes of shredded chicken, capers, sliced avocado, and aji (she didn't recognize aji; also, I couldn't use sour cream, since this was a meat soup), and even before I brought the soup out she asked Oh, did you try to make ajiaco?

Real ajiaco requires three different types of potatoes, at least one is a specific variety that you can't get here, as well as the herb guascas. Real ajiaco is also boiled down to a thick cream, whereas mine was more soupy. And anyway, ajiaco comes from Bogota- which is the capital of Colombia - but not from the region of Colombia from which Sara comes, so she didn't actually grow up eating it. Nevertheless, it's one of her favorite dishes (when she would go to Bogota). And while my soup didn't taste much like Ajiaco Bogotano, it was similar and familiar enough to make her happy.

After dinner we split into two groups. Nadine, Eitan, and Emily played Thunderstone. First plays for Eitan and Emily, who didn't like it that much. Eitan prefers games where the scores are visible during the game so that he knows how to pace his strategy (when to ramp up and when to cash out).

Sara, Anne, and I played Castles of Burgundy. First plays for both of them, third play for me. Both Thunderstone and CoB have long setup times and lots of moving parts, but during play the turns flow fairly smoothly.  CoB is beginning to make more sense to me. It still seems to be one phase too long. Thankfully, by the last phase we were all playing fairly quickly, so it was soon over. In the last phase I completed a large district or two which jumped me ahead some 30 points from where we were all clustered in the scoring.

The next day's lunch was with two families each of whom had four children. I didn't bring games with me, but  two of the kids engaged me in a game of Rummikub. Often, the finagling of the melds are held up by the lack of a few key tiles. The first to draw one of the tiles and recognize what to do with it then goes out. The following player is usually then able to go out immediately after, or at least would be able to if the game were to continue. That's what happened with us.

This was followed by Crazy Eights where the rules changed (not by me) whenever it looked like I had won.
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