What do you do when you get to a new location? There is so much to relearn about where you have just landed, so much to know about the systems and shops in the area. When I had just arrived at my new hostel in Recoleta I needed to orient myself and find out just what was around me. In the process I discovered a takeaway shop unlike any other I had ever seen. What a delight this place was.
As I was out wandering the streets to discover my new neighbourhood I decided that since it was lunch time I needed to eat. It just so happened that I was walking past a local eatery at that very moment, so I stopped in.
It was a rather ordinary looking shop and did not have anything fancy such as I was accustomed to from Australia, but I had come to expect this after my short time here. I wandered in and found a place on one of the stools at the main bench. There were no tables or chairs here, only stools and benches. The main bench separated customers from the business area of the shop, the other nestled tightly against the large plate glass windows.
There was nothing wrong with this place, it was after all quite a normal looking joint for a meal around here, but it still managed to capture that feel of being only half completed which so many of these places did. Perhaps it was the many broken things around the place that did this, the broken stool that stood in the corner, the severe wobble in the bench against the window, or the cracked glass in one of the display cabinets.
Even the business side of the shop had that feel of being not quite right. Somewhat like the feeling should mum be trying to cook around the broken bits of motorbike that dad had strewn across the benches. It was not that the place was dirty, nor did it have any motorbike parts strewn across its benches, it was actually quite clean in the areas that mattered. Nor was it that the place was really messy, although all the tools of the trade were out and waiting for use on the cooking benches. It was hard to place a finger on the reason for this feeling, but whatever it was I could still feel it.
After sizing the place up the next step was working out what I wanted. There was a board of Spanish writing of which I could understand none of it. So I kept looking. I was in luck as there were some old and tattered computer printed paper signs plastered over the glass of the display cabinet, which by the looks of its contents was being used as a filing cabinet these days. These signs I had clasped my eyes on sported wonderful pictures of what it was they were selling. I could now ask for something and know what it was going to be. There were not many of them, four in fact, although they repeated so my choice was limited to two.
The price had long since faded from these signs so I took a guess as to how much it would be. I was amazed at how tough it was to decide between my two choices. Fried breaded steak and hot chips or a hamburger. It should not have been a tough choice. Eventually I ordered the hamburger, but by the time it was on the grill I really started wanting the the steak. Perhaps I had ordered the opposite to what I felt like. Perhaps I considered that the hamburger would be cheaper. It was not much cheaper if it was. In any case I was now about to have a hamburger.
Preparing The Food
Most shops these days seem to have everything prepared before they need it. Probably the only process of creating something fresh while they are cooking is when they crack an egg over the hotplate. The shop I was in did it differently. It did not work this way.
The meat patty for my burger was formed from fresh mince, a batch of which looked to have been just completed. An old hand-wound mince grinder on the bench, similar to the style I remember playing with in my grandmothers house, gave testimony to where it would have been ground.
Lettuce leaves were stripped off the plant, rather than taken from a box pre-shredded. Tomatoes were cut to provide the slices for the burger, and so on it was with all of the ingredients that are used to create a complete hamburger. I was surprised that she did not bake the bread too, but this seemed to be the only thing that was not fresh to the moment.
This process of freshness extended even to the hot chips. Potatoes, peeled on the spot, were then forced through a hand operated chip cutter. This machine, resembling a press from a mechanics workshop, produced lush, thick potato chips, ready to fry.
Enjoying The Place
It was quite amazing to watch the preparations taking place before me. Perhaps I simply have not seen things things taking place before. Perhaps there are many places like this but they simply do it out in the back room rather than directly in front of me. I liked it being in front of me. I could see the quality of food that was being prepared. It also gave me something interesting to watch while I waited for my food.
After completing my meal, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was much cheaper than I had first expected. As a result, I returned here a few times to sample the large variety of foods available here. Well perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I returned a few times and simply swapped between the two choices that I had from my faded pieces of paper. They were good choices though, and I liked both the hamburger and the crumbed steak.
The Owner She Was
It was after one of these later visits that I realised that the place was run only by one lady. At times she was assisted by her teenage son, although he seemed mainly to be there in the afternoons. She did not seem to be the domesticated sort of woman that one would imagine would do so much cooking. There was a definite edge of firmness about this lady. Some may have said it was a harshness, but they would not have seen her smile that showed off her softer side.
A Genuine Place
When I left that place after my meal, I felt like I was leaving something genuine, a place that had not followed after the look and feel of the MacDonalds in this world. It was fresh and it was also traditional at the same time. Sure it was old, and things were a little tatty, but that just added to its character. It was a place that I felt at home in, and for me, in a new location yet again, this was important.
A little oasis of food – freshly made.