Heart of Palm “Carnitas” Lettuce Wraps

palm heart carnitas

Heart of Palm “Carnitas” Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients

1 head red leaf lettuce, preferably wilted slightly

for the Heart of Palm “Carnitas”
1 14.5oz can or jar whole hearts of palm packed in water
1/2 medium onion
1 cup vegetable stock
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Broccoli Stalk Fettuccine + Roasted Tomatoes

broccoli stalk fettuccine
Pasta alternatives don’t have to cost $2 per serving. I enjoy using Shirataki noodles just as much as the next paleo enthusiast or carb-conscious person, but the cost adds up. So I thought, why not utilize an ingredient that many home cooks often throw out? I always use the stalk of the broccoli, but usually just add it along with the florets in soups, stir fries, and steamed vegetable dishes. It just occurred to me today to feature broccoli stalks as the star of a dish. The result? Even better than I predicted. Broccoli stalks, when thinly sliced, make a mean fettuccine noodle. The chickpea-cashew cream sauce pairs perfectly, but my favorite element would have to be the roasted tomatoes. Overall, this dish has aesthetic appeal and a lovely flavor profile. To make it even more budget-friendly, toasted sesame seeds can be substituted for the cashews.



Broccoli Stalk Fettuccine + Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients

3 roma tomatoes, halved
2 broccoli stalks
salt, for cooking
1 cup toasted cashew pieces* (see how-to in the steps below)
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
3/4 cup broccoli water
1 Tbsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice or more, to taste
1 clove garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper
3-4 peppercorns
Salt to taste

broccoli pasta ingredients

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees..

Using a mandolin (who am I kidding, I don’t own a mandolin) or a knife, slice strips from the broccoli stalks as thinly as possible. Then slice each slice as thinly as possible to create “noodles” (thinner than julienne, as long as the stalk will allow you to cut all the way without inducing breakage).

In a stove pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add broccoli “noodles” and a pinch of salt. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.

chopping broccoli

*The purpose of/inspiration behind this recipe was to make use of broccoli stalks that are often discarded by home cooks and/or the general public—but if your broccoli still has florets attached, use them too.




When oven is ready, place roma tomatoes in an oven pan or on a cookie sheet. Lightly shake sea salt over tomatoes before transferring to the preheated oven.

raw tomatoes halved

Before you start the alfredo sauce…
When broccoli “noodles” are tender (7-10 minutes) use a strainer to extract the water/broth. Return pot of broccoli noodles to the stove, cover, and ignore while you focus on other the other elements in this dish.

broccoli stalk noodles

for the sauce…
Blend 1 cup toasted cashews* with 3/4 cup broccoli water/broth, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 3-4 peppercorns, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 Tbsp garlic powder, and 1 Tbsp lime juice.

*to toast the cashew pieces…
you will need:
raw cashew pieces
a small cast-iron skillet or frying pan
a plate
a wooden spoon or pair of wooden chopsticks for stirring

cashew

Spread the nuts in a single layer in the skillet. Turn on heat to low (3-4). Stir regularly to ensure all sides are cooked. This takes 15 minutes, or until cashews are lightly brown. If you see traces of dark brown, don’t worry. When dry-roasted/toasted the traditional way in Guatemala, cashews develop spots that are more browned than others*.




*I found a youtube video for a how to make cashews (marañones) from start to finish (literally, the video shows the fruit picked directly from the tree). I’ve witnessed this process before but all I did was take an Instagram photo. I always wished I’d made a video. Now I found one. Shout-out to Arielhz45 for their well-made informative instructional video. The reason why most cashews you find at the grocery store in the bulk bins or pre-packaged by Planter’s or some other company = here in the grand old USA we tend to think everything tastes better with grease and salt. We roast cashew nuts in peanut oil (thanks, Planter’s) despite the fact that cashews have a high fat content already (the good, nutritious fat that comes from whole foods *note: when I write “whole foods” I don’t mean WFM. I write about WFM (Whole Foods Market) occasionally, so I can see how this might seem confusing. From now on, I will refer to Whole Foods Market as such, or I will abbreviate as WFM. When I discuss “whole foods” I mean whole foods as in unrefined, unadulterated, unprocessed foods and/or actual foods as opposed to fruit byproducts i.e. olive oil, grape seed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or seed byproducts e.g. sunflower, sesame, or canola. Also ingredients that aren’t used as fillers in practically every packaged food, such as the corn byproduct maltodextrin. Get it? Sorry if that sounded fragmented. If so, ask me to clarify via a comment, an email, or whatever other means of communication you choose.

Here is the aforementioned video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TBYddQRWU
and here is an official PeaceCorps video that documents how cashews are made/processed in factories in Ghana (I’ve never been to Ghana, but I do know a lot about cashew processing and the socioeconomic chain of demand surrounding it) also I might be joining the Peace Corps so this video seems relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky8omUFpxVI

the alfredo sauce:

vegan alfredo

the roasted tomatoes:

roasted tomatoes

Julienne the roasted tomatoes and toss with cooked broccoli “fettuccine” and alfredo sauce.

vegan broccoli stalk pasta

 

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Backpacker’s Guide: Hair Care

cooking-oilWhat’s the best hair product in Guatemala or Mexico? Vegetable oil, hands down.

Usually canola mixed with soybean or sunflower oil, it’s the most commonly sold and works the best. Seriously, forget coconut oil. Before I lived in Mexico for the first time, I was in a staunch raw-food phase and only in the rarest of circumstances would I go so far as to eat steamed vegetables. During that phase I made a lot of raw chocolate with agave nectar (at this point, I had yet to discover stevia).

To make the raw chocolate I used extra virgin coconut oil, which cost something like $13 with my Whole Foods employee discount. I have a distinct memory of attempting to sell coconut oil to a customer when they asked me where to find moisturizer, eye makeup remover, and a natural alternative to the silicone hair serums used at salons. Coconut oil works for all of those things. The body care department manager at the store I worked at stepped in to inform the customer that eye makeup remover, hair serum, and moisturizer are three very different things. Lesson learned. Or not.

I loved working at Whole Foods. I worked there for 6 years, from high school through college. I would have stayed a seasonal employee had transportation complications not prevented me from returning to California to fulfill my shift. Without a doubt, I really loved working there—but this isn’t about that. The point I intend to make concerns the multi-functionality of coconut oil as a body care product, eye-makeup remover, and all-around genius alternative to any hair product I’ve tried. If that sounds cool, just wait. There’s more. When in Mexico, or Guatemala, or anywhere else in the world for that matter: should you happen to come upon the unfortunate realization that your suitcase landed in an entirely different continent much to your inconvenience—take a deep breath. There is no need to fret. If you’re in Latin America, don’t go to the Superama for hair serums and moisturizers. Go to the Superama for canola oil and eucalyptus oil. I would recommend tea tree if you’re in the states, but 70% of my travel experience pertains to Mexico and Guatemala—and I have never found tea tree oil in a Superama. Eucalyptus is similar and slightly milder, but has the same effect on things like acne and has a similar scent. It’s an astringent, that I guarantee will render obselete all of your Proactiv bottles of “toners”, “cleansers” and “pre-cleansers”, or the Proactiv spin-off, X-Out. I know acne can be genetic, or something you can “grow out of” but unless the universe played a significant trick on me when I was 13 I imagine that tea tree (or Eucalyptus) can legitimately cure acne. Unless it was just stopping meat-eating or dairy consumption. I imagine those were also influential factors. Only buy the pure kind, steam-distilled from leaves of the Eucalyptus or Eucalipto tree. It also works as a repellent for most insects, almost as effectively as DEET—minus the threats to your genetic makeup and that of your future children.

Finally: canola, or sunflower, or combonation-vegetable oil (and even safflower oils) literally function just as well as coconut oil, as an eye makeup remover, hair serum, or body moisturizer. The effects of ingesting specific types of oils might have differences among them, but in terms of hair care and body care–trust me. Anything sold as an “edible” oil or otherwise sold for food with the word “vegetable” in the title will work perfectly. I can see how this might seem sarcastic, but trust me. It’s not.

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Backpacker’s Guide to Guatemala: Hydration

nueva-santa-catarina-ixtahuacan-solola-guatemala-ninos-agua-2

To stay hydrated when backpacking in Guatemala, think like a local. In most municipal towns, you will find a central park or square with large tubs of free agua potable (filtered water suitable for drinking) from which you can fill your water bottle. When you run into situations that deny access to a source of free water, you have a few options.

Bags of Agua Potable

For less than 1Q or 50 cents USD, you can generally find purified water in 12oz plastic bags. If you lack a water bottle or container to pour it into, bite a small hole in the corner and drink it the way the locals do. To be safe re: avoiding germs, use a bit of rubbing alcohol to sanitize the bag beforehand. A 2oz container of rubbing alcohol is always ideal to have on hand, in cases such as this and also as part of the mini first-aid kit you should carry with you at all times.

Portable Water Filter

I carried a portable water filter while backpacking in Ecuador, but found I didn’t need it. In Ecuador they treat the tap water with iodine, which makes it safe to drink. In Guatemala, I’m fairly certain my travel companion brought one. However, I never used it and I don’t think he did either; from prior experience backpacking through Latin America we learned that tap water, when boiled, is perfectly safe to drink. That aside, when I researched water filters in 2010 in preparation for Ecuador, I found limited options in terms of portability and convenience. Five years later, the google search results instantaneously pointed to the LifeStraw, which boasts that it allows you to procure drinking water from “virtually any source” without the aftertaste characteristic of other portable filters. Also, for every LifeStraw water filter sold, a child in Africa receives clean water for an entire school year.

Iodine Tablets

You can buy these in Guatemala, but they’re not very expensive in the states i.e. at REI or online. It’s never a bad idea to have some on hand, should you run into a sticky situation e.g. you arrive at a border crossing and can barely speak to the guard because you’re parched, having run out of water—and with no tiendas in sight, all you have to work with is the questionable cup of tap water offered to you so you can speak up and explain that it is you in the passport photo, despite the fact that your signature has changed significantly since you were 16 and you are now blonde with a very short haircut as opposed to a brunette with dreads.

Clearly, brands other than Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets exist. I have thorough experience with this brand however, and endorse it over other brands I’ve tried.

Boiled Water

Boiling is the safest, most tried and true method of water purification. Buy a lightweight metal pot from an open-air market in Guatemala, and carry it with you when you travel. Keep the iodine tablets on hand for times when you don’t have access to a stove or flame. If you’re in the highlands and it’s freezing, and you spot a woman selling a hot beverage reminiscent of water—typically a very weak coffee with sugar or panela—drink it. It’s boiled to a temperature high enough to melt the sugarcane. It’s purified liquid that will hydrate you, so be prepared to bite the bullet and ingest some sugar. If made traditionally, the sugar is pure sugarcane juice added to water. When you find yourself in a situation like this, without the convenience of tiendas and with a crowd of angry locals behind you screaming in Spanish to the guard that you’re a imposing tourist wasting their time…as you collect yourself, nervously awaiting a sentence of 5-10 in a Mexican prison, the dietary consequences of boiled panela water will seem insignificant.

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History of Soymilk part 1: Guatemala

History of Soymilk and Other Non-Dairy Milks (1226-2013): Including Infant Formulas, Calf Milk Replacers, Soy Creamers, Soy Shakes, Soy Smoothies, Almond Milk, Coconut Milk, Peanut Milk, Rice Milk, Sesame Milk, etc.
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Vegan Backpacker’s Guide, part 3

vegan backpacker hierbas

If you’re on a budget, this post will be of use to you. Whether you’re a staunch vegan, a vegan-leaning vegetarian, a pescetarian, a semi-vegetarian, or an omnivore who simply wants to learn more, you will benefit from the consumption of hierbas when traveling or living in Guatemala. Hierbas translates from Spanish to English as “herbs”, but the actual term pertains more to weeds. Hierbas, in Guatemala, generally equate dandelion greens, red clover greens, or other things considered a nuisance or thrown away (the supposedly-unusable parts of root vegetables like beets, for example). In Guatemala, the women who sell vegetables in or outside the local markets will throw away nutritious vegetables such as beet greens and broccoli leaves because culturally they were never taught to keep them, thereby knowing nothing about the nutrients the leaves provide. The “hierbas” that a parent or older sibling often cooks and serves to their child or younger sibling, typically come from the tops of root vegetables, or the weeds that grow in their backyard. Few people ask sellers of vegetables in or outside the local markets if they can take or buy the greens they would otherwise toss. You can ask the vendedora if she wouldn’t mind giving her vegetable greens aka her basura, but know it’s not likely to guarantee results on the first try. Befriend her, and utilize tactics I wrote about in previous articles i.e. research in an internet cafe or on a laptop if you have one. Ask about her daughter who works as a temp in Guatemala City, or her husband who occasionally visits. Once you know who she is and she knows who you are, you can pose the question: Can I take the trash for you?. If that doesn’t work, ask if you can take the rubbish for your horse. If her expression continues to be skeptical, ask if you can take the greens for yourself. If that fails, offer 3Q for all of it. If this doesn’t work, try 5Q. These nutritious greens are tossed by the wayside normally, so an offering of $0.50 to $0.75 will help get the point across that you actually want to buy the greens/leaves.

Cook the greens, or weeds, or whatever you want to call them, as you would cook kale, collard greens, or chard. Use a bit of salt to tenderize, after thoroughly rinsing and blanching, in order to remove any bits of rock or bacteria.

Serve with sliced beets, and/or use in place of analogous greens in your favorite vegan recipes. If you want to really take it to the limit in terms of border crossing regarding not only country lines but also culinary…then make a vegetable broth of it and diced onion.

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Vegan Backpacker’s Guide, part 2

Or, how to cook your own food

meal guate 2

So, you’re not keen on making sandwiches with avocado, onion, and tomato on white bread. You know how said bread is made and what ingredients go into it. You know it contains chemical leavening agents in place of eggs, and that it’s dairy free (and therefore vegan). You might also have an awareness of the mutual exclusivity between white bread and paleo.

Whether you’re staying in a hostel or have rented an apartment, or you’re a PeaceCorps volunteer and made arrangements other than a homestay in order to avoid the awkwardness that would ensue when you pass on the soup because it’s cooked with chicken bones; or the breakfast, when it contains eggs bought with the host-family’s hard-earned money or laid by their family hen…

Scenario B

The money you have to live on consists of either a meager stipend or nothing at all. After searching far and wide to secure an apartment or a room in a hostel or hospedaje with a kitchen—with a dependable landlord and rent within your budget, you finally find it and obviously can’t live on your stipend or lack thereof when you spend most of it on rent. Your coworkers, peers, or most people in your age range go out to bars and clubs every night and dine at restaurants that cost 45 Q for an entree.

Your apartment, or the hostel or hospedaje you are staying in, has a stove. The town you are staying in has a market that caters to locals. You can either trek to the market every day to buy the fresh produce you need, or you can supplement it with a few dry goods. Namely, havas aka fava beans. These have 20g protein per serving and are reasonably priced. If they don’t taste delicious at first, you will eventually begin to crave them. When purchased fresh they cook a lot faster, but it’s a good idea to keep a stash of the dried variety at home (or in your backpack when between hostels, apartments, campsites, etc).  You can also buy purple corn, a popular “superfood” among the raw foodist community.  Like dried havas, it’s sold by the pound inside most local markets. When dried, it looks a bit like animal feed—especially when stored in large burlap sacks as it often is. That shouldn’t wig anyone out, however, since most cows are fed corn—as are most dogs and cats that eat commercial food.

But seriously, purple corn is good for you. Just ask Blythe. She loves it. You can also buy quinoa, which I personally don’t love for reasons similar to my general aversion to rice.  However, if you like grain—quinoa is most likely your best bet. Unless you’re gluten intolerant, wheat berries provide a nutritious alternative to rice. Another food considered a “superfood” in the states are cacao beans—also sold in markets in Guatemala with an astronomically lower price tag. Cacao tastes great in a trail mix with cashew nuts—another “superfood” that is sold in the states for $10 a pound. In the local markets of Guatemala, the price per pound is 4 or 5Q (under $1). You can also buy goji berries—another “superfood” in the states, known in other countries as “wolf berries”, for mere pennies when compared to the $20 a pound they sell for in the states.

cooked meal vegan guatemala

Cooking your own food is often possible at your average hostel. However, when traveling though Guatemala for the fourth time, the girl I was traveling with seemed a bit more hardcore than me. I thought I’d seen it all, but she suggested we stay at an hospedaje that looked straight out of a horror film. The room cost about 10Q for both of us, and we slept on a cot in our sleeping bags only to wake up to noises of 10 cockroaches scurrying on the floor. The shower was a definite no-go, since neither of us had “shower shoes” or flip flops, and all of the toilets were clogged. We peed in empty water bottles. The next night, we went to the hostel across the street for 100Q. At this hostel, unlike the previous, we had kitchen access and wifi. In the kitchen, we cooked the havas I’d purchased from a market months ago in a town I can’t recall the name of. I’d nearly forgotten about them, but the fact that I had them eliminated the need for us to trek 10 more miles into the next town to eat. Lesson learned: dried goods are good to have on hand in case of a crisis or otherwise.

havas purple corn

Good things to travel with, in case you stay somewhere with a stove, include:

1.) A metal measuring cup, to double as a drinking glass—from which you can drink a hot beverage or broth without the threat of melted plastic, and use for cooking. Don’t travel with glass, since your backpack will most likely end up strapped atop a bus with questionably-secure rope. Glass can easily break in situations such as this (thereby ruining many important belongings i.e. your laptop). This didn’t actually happen to me, unless you consider nightmares in a parallel universe an alt-reality, if you believe in the existence of alternative universes or dimensions and consider dreams a gateway into them.

2.) A small metal pot with a lid, that you can buy at most markets in Guatemala. The metal is thin, of a similar thickness/texture as the metal measuring cup. You can also buy one in your home country before you leave, but if saving $ is the goal—wait.

3.) A tupperware plate, such as these. If you’re traveling with a partner or a group—one person should carry them because they’re feather-light and stack in a very convenient way. In other words, it’s as easy for one person to carry 4 of them as it would be for 4 people to carry one each in their own individual packs.

4.) A knife, purchased when you land at your first destination. If you take a bus to Mexico en route to central america from the states, you might not need to worry about it being confiscated. I’m not sure. However, if you take something like a Leatherman Juice (which I loved, and nearly fought the security officer at customs to keep) or a swiss army knife, you need to check your bag. It’s ironic, since the first rule of backpacking is to pack less than what would necessitate a checked bag. So, either check your pocket knife or mini multi-tool device in your bag, and deal with baggage claim, or wait until you hit Guatemalan soil and purchase one at the market in the next town.

5.) A fork and spoon, or a spork (one that won’t be taken from you at customs) carved from bamboo, like this one sold by Bambu. Yes, it’s very hippie and was very hyped in 2009 at co-ops in Northern California and Southern Oregon—but it’s also very functional. I can’t hate on it; it was a gift from my former roommate in college. It fits in your pocket and you could even drill a hole in the middle and wear it as a necklace for convenient use. Otherwise, buy a metal fork and spoon at the market when you arrive at the town you plan to stay in. The fork can even double as a tool for self-defense, should you ever need it.

6.) Pepper spray or mace. If Belize is on your backpacking itinerary, a store in Belize City sells it. On a keyring. On my first trip to Mexico for work back in 2009, my then-boyfriend’s close friend gave me her pepper spray keychain as a gesture to keep me safe. Like the Leatherman in 2011, this was also taken from me at customs. When I found a near-identical one filled with bear mace in Belize, I bought it. There was a time, in fact, that I actually needed to use it.

What you don’t need, but might want:

1.) A bowl, made of plastic or metal. I recommend metal, since in most cases you’ll want to eat soup from it. If you really want to minimize—trust me, this is a good idea; less is more when it comes to backpacking—use the metal measuring cup instead. It’s totally versatile, and when you consider the odd shape of a bowl (and curse it each time you attempt to pack your bag) you will later rejoice in the versatility of the metal measuring cup. You will leave your plastic bowl at the hostel or give it to the homeless man on the sidewalk. You will not miss it.

2.) Glassware. If you stay in a place long enough i.e. if you work or volunteer there, you may want a glass or two. Ever wonder about that vintage pyrex your great-grandmother donated to Goodwill in the early ‘90s? It’s in Guatemala. Vendedoras use it to serve their Tang and arroz con chocolate. And as a side note, please: sit down and drink your beverage from pyrex as opposed to accepting a to-go styrofoam glass that will undoubtedly later manifest in the lake or the ocean, or on the streets of Guatemala City.

Vintage pyrex glassware is useful, novel, and more fun than drinking from a metal or plastic cup. Buy one in the market or from a used-appliance store. Can’t find one? Walk past the tourist-ridden main street and venture into the real part of town.

The point is, to cook havas or purple corn (or black beans, pinto beans, red beans, etc., if you so choose) you need only a cheap metal pot of a small size, in which you can pack clothing as well as your metal measuring cup/drinking vessel when en route to your next destination. Don’t buy glass unless it’s cheap and you don’t mind leaving it behind (since it’s likely to break, and could ruin the rest of your luggage i.e. your clothes). A knife is useful, but if bringing one from the states and your mode of transport is by plane—don’t be surprised when the customs officer pulls you aside and asks you to spread the contents of your bag across the surveillance belt.

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Vegan Backpacker’s Guide to Guatemala

backpacker guide guate

Whether you’re just passing through or plan to stay awhile, you want your $ to last as long as possible. Maybe you plan to volunteer or work as an unpaid intern, or you’re conducting research on cultural attitudes regarding a particular subject. Maybe you’re alone, or perhaps someone else tagged along.

Let’s say you found an apartment living among the locals and a few counter-culture expats such as a family from France. Perhaps one day you realize that expat American journalist who lives next to you is the author of the book the person who lives with you is reading.

It’s a small world, after all. Coincidences happen. Maybe you or backpackers like you have or one day will run into people you met while volunteering on a farm in South America years back, and you decide to travel together. Maybe they’re also vegan. Maybe a friend of yours comes to visit and he or she isn’t vegan but is adventurous enough to explore the vegan culinary bounty that Guatemala can provide with a bit of finesse and persuasion.

*based on a true story

Whatever your predicament: if you’re on a budget or want to travel until the $ runs out, you can’t afford to eat at the restaurants that cater to gringos. Let me pose a hypothetical situation, based on my experience:

You walk past the tourists and ex-pats from affluent western nations such as your own, listening to them gush about how their dinner cost only $5, and drinks only cost $3. You skeptically peruse the comodores and lunch stalls at locals market, silently calculating USD to quetzals; wondering if a plate of cooked vegetables with a side of beans and slice of avocado for 10 Q (approximately 1 USD 30 cents) is really worth it, considering you don’t really want the rice or the Tang, and won’t eat more than one of the tortillas. With a bit of negotiating and mastery of the language and its local dialect, you can sometimes negotiate the price down a few Q—or convince the cook to substitute extra vegetables for meat.

FYI: Unless your stomach has already been strengthened by a case of food poisoning, or if you’ve never had a problem and feel invincible enough to risk it—I don’t recommend the raw lettuce or tomato salad that sometimes comes with a meal from a lunch stall.




That said, the risk is worth it (within reason). The closest thing to a raw salad from street vendors, comedores, and market stall lunch vendors that doesn’t run the risk of food poisoning, or that doesn’t taste of clorox (a common method of sanitizing lettuce when served to gringos), is:

Ensalada de remolacha
pickled beet slaw
Street vendors often serve this as a topping for tostadas or fried potato dumplings. The beets and onions (and sometimes carrots) used in ensalada de remolacha are cooked to a temperature high enough to significantly lower the risk of food poisoning. To score a helping of ensalada de remolacha, minus the tostada or fried potato dumpling, or other toppings i.e. crumbled cheese—a sprinkling of which seems to manifest on everything from a street vendor before you can articulate the words no queso…befriend the vendedora. How? Master the language of street food lingo. If you’ve been backpacking for long, you’ve most likely picked up some basic phrases regarding food. If not, go to an internet cafe and print out the words/phrases you need. You could buy a phrasebook (if you aren’t carting one around in your backpack already), but why add the extra weight? Yeah, the pictures and illustrations of tourists talking to locals might look cool and give the allure of making learning ‘more fun’—but take it from someone who learned the hard way: you will end up doing everything from tearing out pages you don’t need to burning the remains in a ceremonial fire. Just kidding; I didn’t burn any books. I left them at a hostel for someone else to use (and later curse the burden of). Additional benefits to internet-cafe research as opposed to carting around a phrasebook or god forbid Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring aka the Bible. I can’t deny its credibility as the authoritative text for backpackers traveling in Central America, but it’s redundant, the text is difficult to read without a magnifying glass, and its pages are equally fragile. If you must buy this book, use it for research before leaving your home country. DO NOT bring it with you. Instead, download country guides pertaining only to the regions you plan to travel through to your lightweight laptop or wifi-enabled unlocked smartphone.

In a subsequent article I will provide info based on my experience with tech in Guatemala i.e. jailbreaking your phone, pre-paid cell service aka “go-phone” SIM cards, getting a local number, which service providers to use…as well as how to get around and stay safe without a cell phone…how to turn tour smartphone into an iPad or tablet, and other tech tips.

…But for now, let’s talk about food.



Scenario A

You’re about to embark upon a 4-hour ride on a chicken bus with your travel partner i.e. friend, colleague, life-partner, whatever. I have experience with all of the above.*

*Ask me questions; I’d be happy to answer them. But this is about you, the potential or current backpacker. So,

You’re adamant about keeping costs as low as possible, and want to gain perspective regarding the local culture. You brought along a granola bar or two you picked up in Mexico or brought from the states for emergencies, but want to wait to open it until a truly dire situation presents itself. The bus stops in a small town right before the border, and you spot a tienda with an open door. Despite how early it is even for a panaderia to welcome customers, you try your luck. The owner/clerk begrudgingly sells you an avocado, a tomato, an onion, and a lime. As you walk back to the bus (since your backpack is tied to the top of it, it’s pertinent you return before it leaves) you notice an open panaderia. You yell at your travel partner to hustle back to the bus and to email you from an internet cafe if you should miss the bus; you will catch the next bus and the two of you will meet in the next town.

You buy a loaf of bread even through you don’t normally eat bread, and catch up to the bus just before it leaves. As the bus takes off you lurch forward and nearly face-plant into a family of four with a bag full of live chickens, but your travel partner grabs you by the waist and pulls you into the seat. You are safe. Or maybe you’re alone, and you hold onto the railing above you head until the next stop, when a seat opens up and you elbow your way onto an open seat next to a single mother about your age with a crying toddler on her lap. Either way—with 8 hours to go, you have semi-healthy provisions—thereby avoiding the need to purchase a bag of potato chips featuring a dancing tiger from the next 10-year-old traveling salesman who boards the bus.

sandwich-guate2

No, you’re not hallucinating. That is bread. The times I’ve eaten bread have fallen into categories involving: a) necessity, i.e. I just hiked 10 miles and this is all we have; b) peer pressure in my weaker moments, after accusations of hyper-radicalism (don’t give in to this one; you are you and don’t let anyone sway you otherwise); c) bread cravings I’ve honestly never had bread cravings—but I’ve been hungry enough to eat it in times like this, and felt justified in doing so. Think about it: a lot of people who follow a raw vegan diet will indulge in wine, and a number of those who adhere to a paleo diet also drink alcoholic beverages (all of which contain sugar, unfortunately) yet refuse to eat bread. If you need to refuel on the immediate, and a panaderia next to the bus stop is open—it might actually be wise to eat some refined carbs, especially if you don’t know exactly what your next destination will be.




In a scenario such as this, you will need: 

A knife, or the willingness to use your hands and/or teeth.

If you have a pocket knife, or even a plastic knife, you can cut into both without hassle. You might get some tomato juice on your pants, but if you think that’s a big deal—you shouldn’t be backpacking.

Avocados, when ripe, are easy to eat without a knife. Squeeze it gently to separate the skin from the fruit; when you find the softest (ripest) part, puncture it. Squeeze out the avocado onto the bread, or spoon, or whatever you plan to eat it with. This method also works with ripe mangos.

To be continued…

Next post: cooking your own food, on the cheap

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