Archive for May 18th, 2008

Searching for a white corn arepa

May 18, 2008

While in China, I stuck to the local food for lunch and
dinner for most of the three weeks I was there and only had western meals
twice, when I was invited, and for breakfast, when I had a more western fare
even if some dumplings were usually included. Given that I am a big fan of
Chinese fan, this was actually delightful and after three weeks of chopsticks
and Chinese food, I can say I was not tired.

But I was tired of the same stuff for breakfast everyday, my
cholesterol surely went up, eggs every other day, little cheese and, of course,
no arepas, the corn flour
national staple of Venezuela, which I eat regularly

Thus, I was eagerly looking forward to having my first
arepas when I got back, except…

They were a huge disappointment…

You see, one of the few things that changed while I was gone
is that while shortages of certain items disappeared the corn flour used to
make arepas seems to be scarce. However, instead of just not finding the usual
white corn flour, whether the “Pan” brand or not, instead what is now available
is a whole bunch of improvised and newfangled flours which in the end do not a
true arepa make.

I knew something was wrong the first day when I looked at my
first arepa and while toasting them usually gives them a brownish color where it
was hotter, the arepa seemed to have a tone somewhere between grey and brown in
very uniform fashion with some dark brown parts where it toasted he most.

It turns out that now there is an “integral” corn flour,
which is nothing but “whole grain” in Spanish, but truly after so many decades eating the
true, “pure” white corn flour arepa, do you really expect me to find a whole grain
arepa, true to the original?

All of which reminded of one of the worst Presidents of the
IVth. Republic, Luis Herrera Campins, under whose Government there were
shortages of white corn flour, which led Venezuela to import yellow corn from
South Africa and a Government campaign, which clearly failed, to convince us
that the yellow corn arepa tasted the same as the white variety we were used

Which utterly failed, of course and simply added to that
Government’s demise and Luis Herrera becoming extremely unpopular.

So the next day I arrived, I went to the supermarket to find the real
thing, but to my surprise it was nowhere to be found. Amazingly, I did find the
return of the aforementioned yellow corn variety, the “integral” or “whole grain” and finally
a “new” and “improved” white corn flour which is called “extra soft”, whatever that may mean, and which is
white corn flour to which rice has been added.

It turns out that I was lucky to find this, it is actually
quite rare as people snap it up when they see it, over the other types (No hope
for 100% white corn flour apparently)

I have yet to try this “extra soft” flour, it is only
appropriate to finish off the “whole grain” package, before we start the new
ones, but I do find it remarkable that rice is being added to the corn flour at
a time when the price of rice worldwide is
shooting through the roof
, due mostly to drought in Australia.

But such are the mysteries of Venezuela’s economy, where
everyday brings surprises.

Areperas, those temples of Venezuelan culinary expertise,
still seem to have the white flour needed to maintain their standards, so there
is always that solution for the quick fix if I need it.

But imagine my surprise this morning, when as I was writing
this article, I find out that this weekend’s Wall Street Journal has
an article
by Raymond Sokolov entitled “In pursuit of the Arepa”, subtitled
“Exploring the Venezuelan Food Scene of South Florida”, where it is reported
that over in the greater Miami area, I can also get the white flour arepas, as described in the article “a pure. plain, white crumpled arepa”, yummy. So,
if worst comes to worse, I guess I can always hop over and go to El Arepazo in Miami
and satisfy my desires and have my arepa.

Such are the surprising ways of the revolution.

All of which shows the true meaning of globalization as the article
even mentions that Venezuelan Chef Edgar Leal of Cacao fame, is a consultant to
a restaurant in Beijing.

So, maybe, just maybe, I could have even satisfied my needs
over there…

(Let me know if the article in the WSJ is free or not, if
not, I could reprint it here)

Slowly getting back

May 18, 2008

Slowly getting back to things after the China trip, I actually spent a lot of time taking pictures today, after reading a book about photography. Not many flowers, there were many when I got back, but they wilted, but something is always there…

On the left, Cattleya Schilleriana from Brazil, on the right, Blc. Copper Queen.

A nice bunch of flowers from my best flowering Oncidium Equitant