I thrust myself into a kind of virtual Colombia this week. Or I tried to, anyway. It was already hot and sticky in L.A., a jungly kind of heaviness we rarely get with our hot desert winds, and I was tired from rock climbing, and I wanted empanadas. Colombian Delicatessen in Hawthorne had stacks of them, haphazardly piled in a cooler that wouldn't have looked out of place at a Winchell's Donuts.
"Where did you come from?" the lady behind the counter asked me.
"Um," I said, running through possible responses (the parking lot? Chicago? My climbing gym?) but eventually settling on "downtown?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I thought you were from Europe because you are so tall!"
Mistaken for a European in a Colombian deli in a largely Japanese/Pakistani area of Los Angeles. God, I love L.A.
She handed me my two empanadas, and the accompanying green sauce (and my pack of guava milk caramels, and my carton of passion fruit juice, because tropical fruit!) and I balanced the whole thing on one forearm as I juggled my car keys to the forefront.
And, crucially, I grabbed a brochure sitting on the counter that advertised an arepa festival that would take place at Sabor Colombiano in Pico Union that coming Saturday.
The delicatessen's empanadas were so surprisingly savory, beefy and cornmealy, contradicting their unexciting beige exterior, and the sauce so full up with cilantro and spice, contradicting its seeming wateriness, that my heart filled with a wholly unsubstantiated love for the entire country of Colombia, and I resolved to attend this arepa festival, whatever it turned out to be and whether or not I could find someone to go with me.
I did find someone, which is ultimately too bad, because I fear he may never allow me to choose a restaurant again after what I put him through.
Picture a table overflowing with plates, those plates overfilled with masa dough, that masa dough overflowing with fragrant filling.
But now sharpen your focus just a little bit, and realize that the fragrance is entirely Thousand Island dressing mingled with a slightly sour hint of Kraft pre-shredded mozzarella 'cheese food'. This sickly orange concoction covers every single one of your 'sampler' of arepas, masking as best it can the fact that the chicharrones are rocks, and the bread not much softer. Then turn your attention to your ears - it's amazing your attention wasn't already turned to them, what with the music piercing your eardrums at a level heretofore reserved for raves.
Now realize you have been sitting there, fruitlessly waving down nonexistent waitresses for over an hour as impatient queuing patrons breathe down your neck and leer at your coveted table. You are especially fruitless because they didn't have any of their signature fruit juices, "just soda and beer", and now your stomach is roiling with the urgent need for a vegetable or fruit juice of some sort to wash away the gallons of Thousand Island.
I feel like I need a third experience (and a fourth, and a fifth, and a tenth!) to warm me once again to Colombia. But I at least plan to make empanadas and passion fruit juice an after-climbing habit. Plus, I'm running out of those guava milk caramels, which are like delightful little Go-Gurt sticks of peanut butter and jelly.