January 3, 2011
Our theme for this month’s Inviting Writing series is “first tastes”: foods that were a revelation the first time you tried them. This week’s entry comes from Elizabeth Bastos, who shared a scary food story about artichokes last year. She blogs about “humor, food, home, parenting and cheese” at Goody Bastos.
A Rebound Relationship with Guava Paste
By Elizabeth Bastos
Years ago, when I was in a complicated relationship with a Venezuelan, I went to his home country and had a cheese arepa for the first time—and that was supposed to be the big deal. When I got home, broken-up-with and sad, my friends said: That’s too bad about Jose. How were the arepas? And I said they were okay.
The big deal for me was the guava paste. Not to get all magical realism, One Hundred Years Of Solitude about it, but the first time I tasted guava paste, it was the muted dead red of heartbreak, a sun just before it sets under the horizon, a thin slab that was sad/happy, sweet/tart and just slightly crystalline. Tears, maybe? I had a bit on top of a piece of cheese called queso tropical after one of my last arguments with Jose about the meaning of love and betrayal, and whether Americans can ever really be sensual.
Queso tropical distinguishes itself in no other way than that it is the perfect foil for guava paste. It is salty, coarse in texture, even squeaky. It’s the work-a-day piano man to guava’s torch singer. I said to Jose, through my tears: You are too passionate, like an artist, of course you are, but what is this cheese? What is this jelly on top? Is it jelly? A preserve of some kind? It’s definitely not strawberry. Or peach. More important, can I have some more? So I brought two bricks of guava paste home with me on the plane, plus some terra cotta knick-knacks, but they all broke.
When I eat guava paste even now, years later, I can’t help thinking: Wow. How can it be that for some people this fragrant, pomegranate-colored, ear-lobe-textured gem of a food is mundane? For me, it’s An Experience, perhaps The Experience. They don’t realize how lucky they are.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.