When I was a child, I was sent to live with my extended family in Colombia. Overall, the experience was amazing. Not only did I get to really know my aunts, uncles and cousins but I also learned how to read and write in Spanish.
The only glitch in this adventure was the food. Lunch time was the worst part of the day for me. I was use to public school lunches, not to two course meals every day. The first dish was soup with either vegetables, beans or lentils and the second dish consisted of rice, potatoes and some kind of meat. These were big dishes..how did they expect a child to eat all that?...really?!
I’d “sit” at lunch for hours while everyone else was taking their “siesta.” Everyone was napping, the only noise in the house came from a hand held radio blasting classical music into my baby cousin’s room...my aunt's idea, she read somewhere that listening to classical music while a child slept made them smarter. I’d sit at the table by myself, sloshing around my cold, greasy soup with my spoon. I was not allowed to get up from the table until I had finished everything on my plate. It was one of those households...so, I tried everything to eat my food within a reasonable amount of time and not end up sitting there for hours. I tried shoving big spoonfuls of food mixed in with the delicious natural fruit juices, to wash it down...but that didn’t work because I’d run out of juice really fast. Then I tried the “not breathing method”...where you hold your breathe, put food in your mouth and quickly swallow, there’s barely any chewing involved in this method...you know the one I’m talking about. I even tried putting the food in my napkin to make it “disappear” but I got caught. It also didn’t help that I was really stubborn and would rather sit there, talking and singing to myself, then eat cold and slimy, congealed soup.
Of all the foods, it was yuca that I hated the most. Yuca is a starchy tuberous root called cassava in the US. In Colombia, it’s usually cooked in soups. It is served in soups or on the side with your meat and rice dish, drizzled with sofrito. I hated the texture, it's very starchy and sort of stringy and it stuck to my teeth...the sensation in my mouth, was like finger nails scratching chalk board. Now imagine that cold...yuck! On this particular day, when I was served yuca for the millionth time, I had had enough. I was tired of sitting at the table for hours. I decide to do something about it because I sure wasn’t going to eat it! The solution was to get rid of it. But how? I could throw it in the garbage...but that would be the first place my aunt would look...I could chug it with juice?...hell NO! I sat their devising ways to get rid of it and then it hit me! The cup! Yes! I quickly put the yuca inside the mustard colored tupperware cup. Yes, tupperware, it was all the rage then. Now that I had it in there, it was time to “show” my empty plate, run to the kitchen and dump the yuca in the trash camouflaged by many napkins, without getting caught. It worked! I “ate” in record time and was off to nap and play. I thought I had gotten away with it, until my aunt called me into the kitchen after my nap. I walk in and she’s holding the cup...I was so busted! I just stood there waiting...waiting for someone, anyone to save me...My aunt was trying to keep a straight face while trying to make me confess...I could tell that she was impressed by my ingenuity. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at each other, she let me go, no punishment...I don’t remember much after that...I guess, she gave up trying to make me eat things I didn’t like. Thankfully, I wasn’t “scarred” by the experience.
Many years after that, I was reintroduced to yuca as an adult. And this time, I fell in love with it. I was searching for good Latin cuisine in Manhattan and I came across, Cuba restaurant located in the Village on Bleeker St. When I walked into this small, warm and cozy restaurant, I felt instantly transported...I can’t say to Cuba because I’ve never been but it definitely didn't feel like I was in NY, specially on a cold winter’s night...between the cigar making in one corner and the live Cuban music in the other, I felt like I'd come home. As I looked around taking it all in, very excited to have found a decent Latin restaurant, something caught my eye. I asked the waiter what were the perfectly shaped, crispy brown morsels at the table next to mine. He told me they were “dedos de yuca” or yuca fries. Really? That’s not what the yuca I’m use to looks like? It actually looked appetizing. He convinced me to try them, or maybe the smell did. The yuca fries arrived with a Cuban garlic mojo sauce. I slowly reached for one, dipped it in the mojo and took a tiny bite, just in case I had to “hide” it in my napkin...some habits never die...but there was no need for the napkin, the yuca fries were finger licking good! I could eat yuca prepared this way, every day. I sat there wondering why this had not been invented before? Ok, I surmised it had been invented a long time ago. I just hadn't been privy to it before...I guess better late than never...Now I’m hooked on yuca balls from Whole Foods, pictured below. Thank you Edilka for introducing them to our champagne club!
If someone would have told me, that I would end up “loving” yuca back then, I would have thought they were crazy. Now, I can’t get enough of it. I’m also grateful that I didn’t end up with food issues from being “forced” to eat everything on my plate. Any parents, aunts or caregivers out there, please don’t “force” your child to eat something you wouldn’t eat. Be a good example and eat it yourself. Find creative ways of making and serving it. If you are stuck on how to do that, send me an email. I’d be happy to help!
in love and pleasure,
The Twinkie Angel