My trip started with a Taco Bell. Two plastic forks can speak of companionship even when the plate has little else to say for itself.
It was good to have my foodie expectations lowered. It was a kind of preparation for the dishes I stumbled across when I couldn’t quite fathom the menu.
There was the Guatemalan soup that seemed to be made of twigs, the ‘special’ honey cake lined with unidentifiable white sludge. Then there was the much lauded Molle, a local chocolate and banana pudding, that my friend and I searched the streets of Antigua for. When we finally tracked it down it tasted like burned gravy.
I will try anything but there are somethings that I can’t quite persuade myself that I want to finish!
And yet I love my food adventures – the roadside fried chicken, loaded up tacos, tortillas irreverently mushed up with bananas, hostel breakfast pancakes served with a smile but no porridge, salsa that speaks sharply when words will not, bus-aisle-wriggle sweets sticky in the heat.
I’ve loved the mystery items bought from street stalls hoping I’ll be able to identify them at the first bite, the fruits that don’t make sense even when I taste them on my tongue and chew them up with strings of adjectives, the strange drinks, the tomato beer mixes that baffle my brain..
I’ve eaten beans, cheese and maize in tens of ways, in a river run of towns and countries; marvelled at how different the same three things can taste kneaded with different air and local secrets.
Stories have been written on empty plates, table rings and crumpled napkins. I’ve found a friend amidst boxes of muesli bars and cookies, claimed allegiances for banana smoothies and sold myself short for a few pieces of rich dense coco.
Food can fill an unforgettable moment. It is a memory that the tongue cannot misplace.
In Livingston, a little town on the Caribbean coast, I drank fresh coconut and ate a soup of seafood drowned in its sweet milk.
I watched the sun set into the warmth of lake at Flores, flanked by candy striped stalls selling sweet deserts, gold and sticky as the last gasp of sunshine.
I’ve felt at home with pupusas – cakes of rice paste nipped in with pockets of filling, pancake flattened – before they’ve left the griddle, even now when I have no two day home to go to.
Birthed in women’s slap tapping hands on street corners, crowned with piquant pickled cabbage, anointed with the local blend of red and green pepper sauces on plastic plates. I’ve loved their hot jalapeno breath and pork spice burn in my mouth.
Whilst in search of grilled iguana, I found peace in a Salvadorean small-town steak. I no longer missed the prospect of some box-ticking exotic meat when its tenderness beat all thought of something better right off of my palate.
I have tasted life abundant and licked my lips.