The Flavor of Culture

el Frijol Feliz, Cooking Class, Antigua, Guatemala

Chef "Gaby" looks disaprovingly at Brian's cooking technique

For the adventuresome, food is the most accessible part of any culture – and the most enjoyable too. History and language tell us many things, but nothing else lets us participate in the daily lives of a people the way their cuisine does.

As travelers we usually find ourselves as outsiders looking in. Eating a local meal and drinking the local drink brings us inside the tent. In food, there is no language barrier to separate us. Our experiences: the flavors, aromas, and textures are identical. Understanding is immediate. In those brief moments, we are locals.

Wherever we go, we always make a point of experimenting with local dishes. After all, everything we currently enjoy, we had to try for the first time at some point. Why limit ourselves to a small list of favorites when there are countless new favorites awaiting discovery?

And why stop at just sampling the local dishes? We’ve found that learning to cook a local meal adds another layer to culinary immersion. Beyond the flavors, it introduces us to the techniques and ingredients that are unique to a region. What better way to marry our passions of eating, traveling, learning and discovery than through a local cooking class? We seek them out wherever we can.

el Frijol Feliz, Cooking Class, Antigua, Guatemala

Brian and Shannon get ready for the best part of cooking class

In Antigua, Guatemala, we had the good fortune of running into a fellow traveler who had just taken a class at el Frijol Feliz. We stopped by the restaurant to get the low-down and were surprised by what we found. In sharp contrast to the crowded New Orleans Cooking School, Frijol Feliz offered truly personalized lessons. Not only did we get to select the menu we’d prepare (one main dish, two sides, and one desert), Shannon and I were the only ones in the class. Talk about a hands on experience!

Over the course of a couple hours we made hilachas (shredded beef and potatoes simmered in a recado sauce), tortitas de arroz (fried rice patties), picado de rabano (a terrific, yet simple radish salad), corn tortillas and mole de platanos (fried plantains in a sweet mole sauce).

Of all the dishes mole de platanos was the biggest surprise – bordering on shocking. Judging from the rich, sweet and wonderfully complex result, we’d never have guessed what went into this desert: charred tomatoes, toasted pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chilies, cinnamon, and chocolate. It sounds positively awful. It was anything but.

The best part? We get to take home the food of Guatemala; a souvenir far more valuable and memorable to us than any tchotchke. Easier to pack, too.

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4 Comments on “The Flavor of Culture”

  1. baidanbi March 30, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Did you get the recipes? The mole de platanos sounds amazing!

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  2. Debra Kolkka March 30, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    I have just been bread making in the Garfagnana in Tuscany. What fun to do local stuff!!

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  3. earthriderjudyberman March 30, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Sounds delicious. I second baidanbi’s call for the recipe for mole de plantanos.

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  4. Brian March 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Hey everyone. We do have the recipies but I don’t feel right publishing them. In the case of the New Orleans Cooking School class, I changed the recipie enough that the one I posted is as much mine as it is theirs. Maybe if I experiment enough with some of these to make them my own, I’ll do a follow-up post. Until then, you’ll just have to plan a trip to Antigua if you want to learn the secret. 😉

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