Saturday, August 21, 2010

Week #48 Guatemalan

For our first foray into Guatemalan cuisine, Himself and I found a place with some inspiring history. Amalia's is one of those great storied restaurants that was named for the resourceful woman who opened it. Widowed with several children at the age of 24, Amalia made the best of a difficult situation by expanding her informal food production into a restaurant that became an anchor in its community. It's a lovely neighborhood gem located a couple of blocks from L.A. City College, a mid-city bungalow converted into a restaurant, with a spacious patio where the driveway and port cochere used to be. That's where the band was set up, too. They had live music when we were there for lunch. Good live music.

Himself's lunch looked back at us, as the sopa de camaron, or shrimp stew, arrived with a large prawn regarding us with a look of beady-eyed indifference. Just below the surface lurked about a half dozen jumbo-sized shrimp that were fresh, plump and juicy. The broth itself tasted of fresh seafood, with none of the staleness that usually accompanies seafood broth from a box or can.

I ordered a generous bowl o' pig parts in a rich tomato broth, a.k.a. revolcado--crunchy ear, delicate heart and earthy liver. I know this isn't for most of you, and quite frankly, it's not really for me either. But I felt the need to try something that is considered an ordinary, everyday dish in Guatemala, where they eat a lot of innards and odd bits we don't usually find on the menu in the United States. After I got past the first cartilaginous ear, chomping on the rest of them was really rather fun (I know my dear friend Mark will roll his eyes when he reads this, since he has "texture issues" concerning foods.). But once you take your time and get acquainted with an unfamiliar texture, the squeamishness can dissipate at least a little. The soup itself was quite good, really rich, roundly seasoned and mildly spicy. The pieces of heart had fat attached, which, because it was pork, was good. Still, it would be nice to experience the texture of the heart itself without the added padding. Well, I'm glad for the experience. And glad it's behind me now.

While this isn't the most inspiring picture, I'm including it for two reasons: One: I've never had refried beans made of black beans. These were really good, much richer in flavor and more satisfying than those made with pintos. Two: Behold the bits of veggie in the rice. They actually used fresh vegetables, cut up and cooked that day, not the uniform-peas-and-carrots-from-a-can. I appreciate little touches like this. Usually I don't eat the rice that accompanies such meals, because all too often it's flavorless and flecked with tired vegetables that taste like aluminum. But this rice was made with broth rather than water and loaded with fresh veggies. We picked all the seafood out of Himself's bowl, so we carried home the rest of the seafood broth and stirred in the leftover rice for a great lunch the next day.

I'd be hard pressed to call a tortilla voluptuous, but these were thick and pliant--made with lard, of course. They reminded me of the exterior of a pupusa. One was all I needed to satisfy. And that means more to carry home and enjoy later with a grating of cheese and a little tomatillo salsa.

 We washed it all down with glasses of jamaica and horchata. You've seen pix of them on this blog before, but they're here again as a reminder that when you go out for Central or South American cuisine, you really should order a beverage that goes with it, not the default soft drink. It helps round out the authentic dining experience. Jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah, just in case you've never had it) is a sweetened drink made by boiling dried hibiscus blossoms (be sure to buy the ones specifically intended for consumption, otherwise you might end up with pesticide breath). And horchata is a lightly sweetened drink made from rice (it can also be made from almonds) and seasoned with cinnamon.
Dessert was wicked-good but put us both into a summer afternoon's coma shortly thereafter--and we shared this order! Rellenitos de platano are large fritters made of plantain with mole inside. They were incredibly rich without being overly sweet. Guatemala is a neighbor of Oaxaca, the region of Mexico that gave us mole. Turns out they have it in the country that is Mexico's "south of the border" too, which makes sense, since the entire Mesoamerican region is where the cocoa plant comes from.

No canned food. No canned music. The passion of people who love the cuisine of their home and are eager to share it. The opportunity to further explore the world's foods and see how the web of food and flavoring knits itself together around the globe. This is what I love about authentic restaurants. You just can't get this experience in a chain.


JohnR said...

I don't know why I never thought of using molé as a dessert ingredient, but I'm intrigued.

I love the thought you put into selecting dishes--like the non-stereotypical cheeses and menu items for the Greek food, and your selection of revolcado here. These selections intrigue me as a (wannabe) foodie and as someone who wants to learn more about what people in those cultures eat (as opposed to what Americans like about them).

Hungry Passport said...

Thanks, John! I'm glad you're intrigued and eager to have some food adventures. It's such fun--and so rewarding--to seek out the real stuff. I've heard people from Italy, Mexico and China all say that when they go to restaurants in the US that are supposed to be Italian, Mexican or Chinese, they don't recognize the food as anything they had back home. That's a shame. It means few people here are getting an authentic experience, and that those poor expatriates are left facing oh-my-God-what-IS-this? on their plates while they yearn for home cooking.

I see you put an accent mark over the e in mole. If ever a word needed a diacritical mark, that would be it. Unless you're pouring mole sauce over a small, burrowing animal (and I probably shouldn't go there...)