PART ONE: THE ESSENCE OF FOOD
Breakfast in Fiji—Laurie Gough
Seduction à la Carte—Thom Elkjer
Cat Fight Cachapas—Lara Naaman
The First Supper—David Robinson
Pizza Love—Fredda Rosen
Doing Rumours—Kelly Simon
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman—Heather Corinna
At the Dinner Table
The Last Meal—Michael Paterniti
The Instructress—Mary Roach
Etiquette, Schmetiquette—O.M. Bodè
The Revenge of the Snake People—John Krich
When I Became a Gastronome—Jan Morris
You Are Where You Eat—Patricia Volk
Go Fish—Renée Restivo
Daddy and the Porcupine—Darryl Babe Wilson
The Raw and the Cooked—Jim Harrison
PART TWO: SOME THINGS TO DO
The Ceremony of One Chip—Robert L. Strauss
Love on a Plate—Theresa M. Maggio
The Solitary Scone—Stephanie Sarver
The Impulsive Chef—Shane Dubow
Greece and Water Mix—Zachary Taylor
Cuckoo for Kugel—Jim Leff
Market Day—Frances Mayes
Fat Farm—Jeffrey Steingarten
Out of Lunch—Linda Rice Lorenzetti
Biscuits & Gravy—Jack Lamb
Seeking the Secret of Bird’s Nest Soup—David Yeadon
Chai in an Unglazed Cup—Marguerite Thoburn Watkins
Crocodile Hunting—Nigel Anderson
Papua New Guinea
Great Expectations—Jennifer L. Leo
A Rite of Spring—Theresa M. Maggio
PART THREE: GOING YOUR OWN WAY
Absinthe —Taras Grescoe
360 Days a Year—Robert L. Strauss
In a Bad Bean Funk—Tom Bentley
Confessions of a Cheese Smuggler—David Lansing
Phnom Penh Pepper—Rosemary Berkeley
The Season of Squirrel—Jonathan Raban
The Taco that Changed My Life—Jeff Salz
The Great Durian Airline Odyssey—Harry Rolnick
Taste of Eros—Ginu Kamani
A Caribbean Treat—Hanns Ebensten
Goulash—Germaine W. Shames
The French Waiter—Joseph Diedrich
Tibetan Cravings—Lisa Kremer
PART FOUR: IN THE SHADOWS
Sausage Wars—Jeffrey Tayler
Foie Gras Dreams—Melinda Bergman Burgener
High on the Mountain—Derek Peck
Hearts Get Broken—Mishell Erickson
Alexandria Sweet—Clio Tarazi
A Seat at the Table—Harry Rolnick
PART FIVE: THE LAST WORD
Soup of the Day—Megan Mcnamer
Cat Fight Cachapas
by Lara NaamanThink twice before you insult the cook.
Latins are reputed to be a hot-tempered people. Maybe Hollywood created the stereotype with all those frontier cantina brawl scenes. Maybe the Colombians added to it by killing the soccer player who cost them the World Cup one year. Add to the list traditions like bullfighting and movies like Scarface.
“It’s the chile peppers,” Rogelio, the owner of my favorite Mexican restaurant, once explained. “They put hair on your chest and heat in your blood.” But the most brutal fight I ever saw in South America involved a very un-spicy food called cachapa and two un-hairy-chested women.
I was spending the night in Cumana, Venezuela. I had checked myself into a bottom-end hotel and headed out to the street for dinner. As luck would have it, there was a cachapa stand right outside. Cachapas are large, sweet, corn pancakes wrapped around a mild, salty, white cheese. They are plain, but make a tasty and filling meal.
I ordered one from the lady at the stand. She ladled the bubbling corn mixture from a large vat onto the griddle to fry and began slicing pieces of cheese with a large knife. I was sitting there in happy anticipation of dinner when the cachapa lady suddenly raised the cheese knife above her head and hurled it towards the door of my hotel. “Tu! Puta! Sal de aqui!” she yelled. Get out of here you whore!
My gaze followed the flight of the cheese machete to see who might be the object of this invective. Crouched in the doorway, with her arms raised as a shield against flying cutlery, was a young woman in a tight white skirt and matching tube top. The black thong underwear showing through the skirt indicated that “Puta” was more than just an insult, it was probably her profession. She stood up and retorted, in a less-than-masterful display of argumentative rhetoric, “You’re the whore!”
My cachapa lady, somewhat saggy and wrinkled in a pink teddy-bear t-shirt, looked more grandmotherly than whorish. Her response was to grab the next available weapon — a rolling pin — and yell, “How dare you show your face here after you slept with my husband!” It was turning into dinner theater. And I figured it was the wrong point in the plot to point out that my cachapa was burning.
The prostitute had recovered enough from the surprise attack to deliver her own verbal onslaught. “You’re an old whore and a terrible cook!”
This was the equivalent of insulting someone’s mother in all those L.A. gang movies. A sudden tense hush fell over the small crowd of onlookers.
“I’ll show you cooking you little slut!” yelled Grandma Cachapa. She grabbed my burned food straight off the grill and pelted the prostitute with chunks of the charred corn patty, reloading with raw ammunition from the vat when that ran out.
Now, it was all fun and games until my dinner got involved. I was about to say so until the prostitute came running at Granny with the cheese knife in her hand. Three of the men at the food stall sprung into action at this point, figuring blood doesn’t do much for the flavor of cachapas.
There were a few moments of scuffling while two men restrained the combatants and the third pried loose all the battle weapons. “For the love of God!” cried the disarmament specialist, wielding the recovered rolling pin and cheese knife exasperatedly. “People are trying to eat in peace!” Grandma Cachapa took a deep breath and freed one hand to cross herself. The prostitute broke down into sobs. Both were coated with gloppy cachapa batter.
“But she attacked me,” the prostitute protested tearfully to her captor. His grip of restraint turned into a consoling embrace. “There, there,” he comforted her, picking pieces of my meal out of her hair. “You just shouldn’t have said she was a bad cook. That was very disrespectful.”
Nobody mentioned the disrespect involved with the prostitute’s adultery or, more importantly, the mutilation of my dinner-to-be.
The prostitute then picked herself up and went back inside the hotel to clean up for work. Grandma Cachapa fumed in hushed tones with one of the other onlookers. I went to look for a nice boring restaurant with male waiters and dull cutlery.
After studying the street food of South America for a year, Lara Naamanreturned to Houston, Texas with 100 recipes, a case of tapeworm, and a well-cultivated Latin temper. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t mess with her mother, her man, or her lunch.
Richard Sterling has been dubbed “The Indiana Jones of Gastronomy” by his admirers, and “Conan of the Kitchen” by others. He discovered the Way of the Fearless Diner when he was shipped off to the Far East as a teenage G.I. He is grateful to the Pentagon for the service. In addition to The Adventure of Food, his books include two others in the Travelers’ Tales series: Food – A Taste of the Road and The Fearless Diner: Travel Tips and Wisdom for Eating Around the World. He is also the author of Dining with Headhunters, The Eclectic Gourmet Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area, and coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to San Francisco. He resides in Berkeley, California, where he is happy to be politically incorrect.