A Double Helping of Capybara

Chef Charlie Otero prepares capybara (ponche) at the restaurant La Comunión in Cartagena.

Chef Charlie Otero prepares capybara (ponche) at the restaurant La Comunión in Cartagena.


My quest for uncovering enjoyable choices of free-range, antibiotic-free meat has often led me to species that remain rare or unheard of in the realm of industrial farming. While I’ve roamed deep into the world of edible rodents–from guinea pigs to nutria to dormice–I had never secured the chance to explore the culinary possibilities of capybara, the world’s largest rodent, until I journeyed to Colombia last year.

For Vice, I test capybara’s viability as an main ingredient of a fine dining experience in Cartagena, where the locals call the meat ponche; and for Roads & Kingdoms, I offer a drink pairing for capybara (also known locally as chigüire) in a Bogota barbecue joint. Take your pick, or go for ’em both!

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A Nod to the Past and Future: Awards and Publication News

There is something to be said for consistency. And it’s a blessing to have consistency during awards season.

twomedals

My story “Speaking in Hats” (published in Compass Cultura in July, 2015) won a gold medal in both the NATJA Awards and the Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards. Meanwhile, “Off the Deep End in Captain Karl’s Homemade Yellow Submarine” previously published in Narratively in March, 2015) won a bronze medal in each of the respective competitions. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the stories, the links to each double-medal winner are above.

I’m honored to be rubbing virtual shoulders with such writers as Michael Luongo, Jayme Moye, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, David Noyes, Tim Leffel, Andrew McCarthy, Christopher P. Baker, Shelly Rivoli, and all the winners of NATJA Awards this year. And I’m thrilled that I can count myself among such writers as Kimberley Lovato, Jayme Moye, James Dorsey, Erin Byrne, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Erik R. Trinidad, Shelly Rivoli, Mara Gorman, Lance Mason, and Marcia DeSanctis who won awards this year in the Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards.

The complete list of NATJA Awards winners is here.

The complete list of Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards winners is here.

And now for the future:

I’m happy to announce that my next book, Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns, and Revelations in the Americas, will be released in July, 2016 by Tilted Hat Press. “Off the Deep End in Captain Karl’s Homemade Yellow Submarine” will appear in the compilation, along with over thirty other stories, most of which having never been published before. Stay tuned…

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Patacon con todo: it’s the meal you excavate.

patcaon_con_todo

The current street food trend in the States is a double-edged sword. The hipster trucks tend to raise the average price of street food, but at the same time, the mind-spinning variety of cuisines and creations offered by new trucks has enrichened the street life experience. On the whole, I’d say we’re much better off than before.

In many cities in Latin America, street food never needed a trend to fuel its existence. This is not that surprising. Street food is cheap. Also, public space such as plazas–bountiful throughout Latin America–lend themselves to street food set-ups more easily than the mostly car-centric city layouts of America. It’s all about the interaction.

And in Cartagena’s Plaza de la Trinidad, host to an inviting mixture of musicians, street performers, food carts, and friendly stray dogs, I recently tried one of the popular offerings: the patacon con todo. My debut piece for Vice Munchies narrates my experience, in which I tap my inner geologist and stumble upon a connection between Colombian street food and Dr. Seuss.

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Capturing the History and Humor of Southern Gastronomy

westing

New Orleans is one of America’s culinary capitals, so no one should be too surprised that the Southern Food and Beverage Museum calls the city home. As a bonus, the museum’s open warehouse-style space also houses the Museum of the American Cocktail–two for the price of one, literally.

My wife and I recently visited the museums, where barbecue is celebrated, absinthe myths are debunked, and garbage pails are plenty, because visitors are allowed to eat while they browse the exhibits. They are food museums, after all. The San Diego Reader just published the story of our visit here.

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Art, Aging, and the Hills of Valparaiso

Mural on Templeman Street in Valparaiso

I suppose all of us, at different times and perhaps for different reasons, find ourselves at a point when we start heeding age and its wholesale irreversibility.

Mine was in Chile six years ago. The Smart Set just published “What the Walls Taught Me,” the story of how the street art of Valparaiso, Chile–and the hilly port city itself–helped me see aging in a different light. It is a tale of trapezoids, dog turd slaloms, time-traveling funiculars, and a comic book hero who drives a garbage truck.

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