Wow. I just read over my first few posts. I come off pretty harsh – but I’m not really that particular. I’m pretty open and accepting, especially when it comes to food. I never re-season or alter the food served (unless the chef recommends), and I never send anything back or complain unless it is just catastrophically bad or incorrect (then, no hesitation). And especially with ethnic food, if I don’t have prior experience with the food I’m ordering, who am I to complain?
Friday night I joined a few people to explore Restaurante Guatemala. This was my first time with this group – I don’t believe anyone had ever been to this restaurant before. (No pictures – I still feel really awkward photographing my food before I eat it…)
One thing I learned is that I really need to learn to trust my palate. I made it a point not to read about Guatemalan food before I went. I kind of like the surprise of discovering something on my own. I tried one of the “typical” dishes Pepian de Pollo. Pepian de pollo is chicken cooked in a molé – apparently with tomato, chile and something. The chicken was quite good – tender, moist and pleasant flavor – a good braised dish. Candidly, rest of the plate could have stayed in the kitchen – cold black beans, typical Latin American rice and shredded iceberg lettuce.
The something in the chicken is what got me. A subtle flavour, but familiar – it stuck in my head. For some reason, I kept remembering a Nigerian acquaintance from college all evening. I chalked it off to my cold medication – this is the learn to trust your palate part. It wasn’t until I began researching pepian that I realized I was pretty close on the origin of the something. The pepian de pollo had reminded me of the egusi soup my friend had made in college. In looking for recipies for both dishes, I found they were essentially the same. In the Nigerian dish, the sauce is thickened with ground egusi seed (a type of watermelon seed). The Guatemalan dish is thickened with ground pepian (pumpkin seeds). In both dishes the ground seeds act as a thickener and add a subtle character to the sauce.
I always find it fascinating when you find similarities in foods from different parts of the world – especially when there is no inherently obvious reason for them. Anyway – the verdict? Still out on this one. On the whole, I was left a bit flat. I agree with Mary, the group’s organizer that a restaurant needs to have a few chances to impress you before you cast a final decision, so I’ll have to find an excuse to try again.
One thing I did take away was that I need to find a good West African restaurant – it’s been way too long since I had egusi soup… Any recommendations?