Meatless in Cattle Country

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Montevideo, Uruguay
November 2011

“Do you have fish?” Karimé asks the waiter in Spanish.

“Yes, we have chicken.”

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Comida

Mérida, México
November 2016

Now the food is getting serious. The waiter at La Chaya Maya sets down the sizzling plate and says something about it being hot. I can feel the steam emanating from within the mound of banana leaves. Carefully, I slit them open and pull them apart.

Inside is pollo pibil, a half chicken roasted in banana leaves and served with steamed onions and tomatoes. I had a late lunch today, so I may not be hungry enough to finish this feast. But I’m going to try.

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Black Friday

Campeche, México
November 2016

For a while it looked as if I’d be stranded at the Edzná ruins. I waited more than an hour at the dusty crossroads before the combi finally arrived heading back to Campeche. That’s the problem with combis — they come when they come.

Combis leave when they leave, as well. I waited nearly an hour for the outbound combi to depart this morning.

The Edzná ruins are a fine display of Mayan architecture. Atop a long staircase, the Edificio de los Cinco Pisos (Five-story building) towers over a spacious acropolis. In the grassy field below, the grand plaza has another tall pyramid, a ball court, and a long stepped building that looks like stadium bleachers but was once a government building for the Maya. It’s nice, too, that the ruins are not as well-traveled as Chichen Itzá, Palenque, and Uxmal. But then, that explains the transportation problem.

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Thanksgiving

Campeche, México
November 2016

The last time I was away from my family at Thanksgiving, Karimé Alvarado and I pulled into Buenos Aires after a marathon overnight bus ride and headed straight to La Estancia restaurant in the microcentro. We feasted on lots of everything: empanadas, chorizo, steak, and mass quantities of wine. Two hours later, we were back on the streets of Congresso looking for pizza.

This time I’m on my own. I’ve been away on the holiday before, but it never hit me like this in Cambodia, Egypt, Italy, and Peru. In those places, the day passed without me noticing.

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Dinner Rules

Palenque, México
November 2016

Travelers, let us agree to leave our tethers behind during the dinner hour. Check our phones and tablets at breakfast or lunch, if we must. But at dinner, let’s put them away.

Instead, let’s enjoy the company of the people with whom we are traveling. Or, if we are traveling alone, let’s enjoy the ambiance of our surroundings and the interactions of our fellow diners. Let us discuss the day’s adventures or observe how the young woman at the next table has made herself up to look like Ariana Grande. Or, how the woman who was sitting with a group at a table by one of the entrances is now standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette melodramatically like women do in French movies.

She must be French. Her husband has a sweater tied across his shoulders. That’s French, isn’t it?

New Nordic Cuisine

Copenhagen
August 2015

Seems like every other restaurant on the Strøget is a shawarma joint. I counted at least a dozen, especially near the university. They must be secretly filming Iron Man 4 in Copenhagen. Robert Downey Jr. is always posting about shawarma on Facebook. It’s the only explanation.

Until I saw The Avengers on television last year, I’d never heard of shawarma. Perhaps it’s becoming what falafels and doner kebabs have been in Europe — a sign of growing ethnic diversity coupled with a need for quick and cheap eats. It’s probably not a threat to the open-faced sandwich, though.

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Pingvinen

Bergen, Norway
August 2015

Pity the regular patrons of the small local restaurant that gets a mention in a popular guidebook. The young bartender at Pingvinen hands out yellow English-language menus to everyone who enters and explains that there is a wait for a table. It is a small restaurant, really more of a pub, that is known for its take on traditional Norwegian dishes. There are only seven or eight tables and some counter space near the windows.

Summer is almost over. The tourists soon will be gone.It’s only six-thirty, but the place is already packed. On either side of me at the bar, locals look over their shoulders in frustration as each interloper crushes in asking for a table that’s not available, a reservation that isn’t offered, or an explanation of the drinks menu. A large group of Norwegians enter and are turned away. The young man beside me heaves a heavy sigh over his Hansa beer.

He will be happy to know summer is almost over. The tourists soon will be gone. And the locals will be able to reclaim their beloved little bar and restaurant.