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When I Find a New Food, I Eat It: Pacaya

When I Find a New Food, I Eat It: Pacaya
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  • When I Find a New Food, I Eat It: Pacaya

    Post #1 - January 12th, 2020, 6:16 pm
    Post #1 - January 12th, 2020, 6:16 pm Post #1 - January 12th, 2020, 6:16 pm
    I had my first bites of pacaya earlier this month. I had spotted a jar of these brined date palm flowers on the shelves of a Guatemalan grocery in Oakland, California. I didn’t stop to buy it, and then almost instantly regretted not doing so – because when I find a food that’s new to me, I want to eat it.

    Pacaya is a fibrous vegetable that’s very popular in Guatemala, especially during Day of the Dead celebrations when it’s served in fiambre, a salad of many ingredients including meat, beets and onion.

    Pacaya.jpg Pacaya blossoms. The nubs on the strands "interlock."

    The edible flowers of the pacaya plant are clusters of long, yellowish-white strands, nubby and bitter. These fibers infloresce within a sheaf of green leaves that can be easily mistaken for a thin ear of corn.

    In Los Angeles a few days after my first spotting of pacaya, we found some being prepared at a Guatemalan night market. The mass of strands was mixed with egg and flour (traditionally it’s corn flour but this might have been wheat flour) and served with thick tortillas, black beans, salsa verde and what the nice street vendor lady said was “chow mein” (it was low-grade spaghetti).

    Street.jpg As street food, this preparation of pacaya is not very easy to eat while standing on the street, in the dark.

    Several vendors at the market were selling pacaya, and in all cases it seemed like they took the whole “bloom” of strands, connected at their base to a stem, dipped it all into the egg-flour mixture, and then cooked it on the grill directly over charcoal. All due respect to tradition, but this seemed a less than optimal way to serve pacaya because the fibrous strand is very difficult to bite through.

    At another Guatemalan grocery near the night market, I finally bought a jar of the brined pacaya. The next morning at my daughter Lydia’s apartment, we made some eggs incorporating this strange flower. We rinsed the brine off the pacaya strands, and then cut the strands into shorter pieces before adding the segments to eggs and pan frying, like an omelet. The pacaya added texture to the eggs; tomato salsa balanced out some of the bitterness; it was edible, though not awesome.

    Pacaya and eggs.jpg Our non-traditional approach is to segment the pacaya strands for easier eating.

    Pacaya is one of those foods I’m glad to have tried, though I feel no compulsion to eat it again.

    Although pacaya seems not to be commonly found on the menus of Chicago Guatemalan restaurants, you can find the traditional preparation – pacayas envueltas – at Antojitos Guatemaltecos (5823 W. Fullerton).
    "Don't you ever underestimate the power of a female." Bootsy Collins