I’ve often wondered what was going through the minds of the people watching me eat something for the first time. In almost every instance I’ve eaten some random thing I’d never even imagined out there in Asia, or wherever I was, I’ve gotten a similar reaction. It was that pleased smile, bordering on laughter, as the person with whom I was witnessed the precise moment in which the flavors and textures registered with my brain. Although, every now and then, their reactions were nothing short of perplexed as I was clearly not enjoying the delicious moon cakes they had offered. They can’t all be winners.
A few days ago, I had a couple of friends from Bangkok in Miami and I finally got to live through those food firsts from the other side. It’s some kind of wonderful to witness someone experience something so foreign to them yet so ubiquitous to your world that it’s a matter of fact.
There are many things I missed about Miami while I was living in Thailand, but most of all, the food. There’s nothing like the type of Latin American food you can get here: the Cuban, Peruvian, Nica, Colombian, Brazilian, Argentinian… I spent a lot of time trying to describe the wonders of maduros and properly seasoned black beans (i.e. not the Chipotle kind) to my friends in Bangkok. Even the rice is not the same, and Asia has their rice game on lock, but so do we, it’s just a different lock.
I took my friends to Versailles for them to get a proper taste of Cuban food. Right on cue, as we were taking a seat, they were mesmerized by the buttered Cuban bread on our table. I don’t blame them because I’m mesmerized by Cuban bread on a daily basis. It’s so simple yet so different from the stuff you get over there. I love me some Cuban bread and now, so do they. To warm things up, we got some batidos de mamey, which is a fruit you won’t find on that side of the world (as far as I know) and got the thumbs up. Then I caught them off-guard with the maduros (fried sweet plantains) that came with every dish we ordered-their expression was priceless-and then proceeded to kill it: vaca frita, arroz imperial, and chuletas the puerco, killed (see below).
We topped off the experience with two of my favorites, a flan Cubano and a tres leches, which turned out to be tasty but way heavier than they expected. Maybe that’s why I’m such a sucker for sticky rice and mango. After dessert, we were ready for a really long walk.
As we made our exit, Henry almost didn’t make it out in one piece. He got caught by the intense gravitational pull of the pan con guayaba, which acted on him like some kind of tractor beam. But we held our ground. After some deliberation and, I imagine, intense soul searching by my friend, we decided that those pastries would be better left for another day.