This is day 7 in the 30-day series “An Act of Kindness by a Stranger”. We have stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant in eastern Bolivia.
The owner asks what I’d like to have. I can choose between costilla frita and milanesa. I ask if I can have the milanesa without the milanesa, if she understands what I mean. We arrived in Bolivia only a couple of days ago and after two years of speaking Portuguese, English, French and Dutch I have to dig deep to find any Spanish word at all, and am not sure if my question makes sense.
Milanesa means the meat is breaded, which I don’t care for at all.
“Just the meat?” she checks.
With the meal we try a chicha, the locally produced beer made of corn. It contains little alcohol but Bolivians can drink it in huge quantities so they get drunk nevertheless. This one doesn’t have much taste though.
I look at Coen’s meal. It is served on the typical small plate which is, typically, loaded with food with the milanesa on top. The milanesa looks terribly greasy. I check mine and conclude that my same-sized meal looks much more appetizing with a piece of meat that can be identified as such.
I have a problem with these plates: How do people cut the meat without the heap of corn, rice and potatoes underneath flying all over the place? I tell you, it’s impossible. It is no use trying to be civilized eaters here since I will fail no matter how hard I try.
I could take a napkin and wipe all crumbs from the table afterward. That would work, but in Bolivia there is generally no holder with napkins on the table but you just get one tiny napkin. In fact, it is not unusual that a regular paper napkin has been cut in half (hard to believe, but true). And you need that tiny piece of paper to wipe your mouth after such greasy milanesa, I tell you.
“You got an egg as well,” Coen notices.
Well, isn’t that an incredibly kind gesture? I’m touched. I really am. Here I am being picky, not wanting what’s on the menu but something else, yet I get something extra. Granted, the egg normally would have been part of the milanesa, but never mind, she didn’t have to fry an egg for me.
I look at my plate: meat from a cow that has wandered around here, as has the chicken whose egg I am eating. I know it comes from a free-range chicken as a couple of them are running around in the restaurant (waiting for the crumbs to fall from my plate, no doubt). The corn probably grew in the garden as did the potatoes, tomatoes, and onion. So most likely only the rice was bought in a supermarket.
The meal is simple in ingredients but plentiful and nutritious.
When I pay our meal, I say in my best clumsy Spanish how much I appreciate the gesture of that fried egg. I am not sure whether she laughs out of politeness or whether she really understands what I am saying. We say goodbye and are on our way.
By the way: Here I go again with my expectations. I didn’t expect an egg so I was pleasantly surprised and concluded it had to do with not wanting the milanesa and the owner still wanting to give value for money. Ha, was I wrong! In the days that follow we learn that when we ask for a set meal with carne (red meat, which is fried) it always comes with a fried egg!
Note to self: start taking photos of these moments. I consistently don’t think of it, which is an interesting issue considering the purpose of this project.
One reason for me to write about these acts of kindness is to become more aware of them. The fact is that too often I realize only afterward how kind a person has been to me, and that I should write about it Notes on Slow Travel. Which makes it too late for a picture. However, not too late to share the moment.
How is that for you? Are you aware of these acts of kindness around you?