Friday, December 24, 2010

Making Tamales

Today marks 11 months that Indio and I have been going out, and I have been embraced by his family. This is great for me because I don't have much of one, and certainly no family member in Costa Rica.

It's a tico tradition for the family (women, men and children) to get together before Christmas and make tamales. It is an all-day process, and everything is in Spanish. Even though Indio was up in the mountain working, I went over to his sister Gretel's house at 10am to help out. When I got there, Gretel and her son, Jose, were off buying ground maiz (corn). So I sat around talking with Ana Laura, one of Gretel's daughters, and Indio's closest relative/friend, about her new (fourth) baby and life in general.

When the maiz and stock from the cooked pork were thickening on the stove, we sliced sweet peppers, carrots and green beans, and cooked rice. Every family adds different ingredients to their tamales, and every family boasts that theirs is the best. My landlady, who gives me some of her tamales each year, includes a prune, a raisin, and a green olive.

Along the way, Gretel fed us all (spaghetti, which they call macaronis). Gretel is amazing. She constantly cooks, and she's good at it. A lot of people live in her house and she feeds them all - Gretel, Ana Laura and her 4 kids, Gretel's other kids Sherlyn, Justin, Sebastian, Michelle and Alexa, plus Indio and Fernando (Gretel's brother) - and always has more for people who stop by.

We cleaned the banana leaves, which get wrapped around the tamales. And we took apart a plastic burlap bag, string by string. Each string ties the tamale packet together. Michelle, 11, and I practiced speaking English.

Late in the afternoon, when everything was ready to assemble, we set up two workstations on the porch. This is how I was taught to make a tamale: Lay down two banana leaves (smaller on top of bigger), ladle the maiz in the center, add a tablespoon of rice, one green bean, one carrot slice, one green pepper slice, and one chunk of pork. Fold the leaves into a packet and stack the tamales. The last step is to tie the packets with the string. The firewood is then lit, and the tamales are loaded into a huge pot and cooked over the fire.

Indio came home from work about 5:30, and by 6:30 I had had enough. My back was sore and I needed to stop.

The goal yesterday was to make 150 tamales. I'll get to taste them tonight, Christmas Eve, when we go to Gretel's house. The entire experience was about more than learning to make tamales, though. It was a bonding experience. The family got to know the gringa better, and I got to see and feel what a warm and loving family Indio comes from.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Intro to Lizano Cahuita

Indio and Me

Saturday night Indio and I attended a 50th birthday party for Ana, a good friend of his. There were about 100 guests, mostly family, plus us. Indio's friends wanted to meet his gringa. I was a hit. His friends wanted to dance with me and give us booze to drink. I made the acquaintance of Lizano Cahuita, a coconut-flavored guaro, which goes down very smoothly. Guaro is a national alcoholic drink made from sugar cane.

The event was held in a big party room way up in the hills between Santa Ana and Escazu. We had to hire a 4x4 taxi to bring us. The food was very good. The chicharrones (friend pork) was outstanding. And the music kept us on our feet almost all night.