The recent World Cup madness that descended upon the Junior High where I teach was
a challenge to many a lesson plan those last few steamy weeks of school. How could past
participles, possessive pronouns, and homonyms compete with Ronaldo, Dunga, and
Valderama? My soccer aficionado students, the Colombians in particular, were interested
in nothing save their native countrys wins and losses and rattled off their teams stats
with a meticulousness that should have been reserved for irregular verb memorization.
World Cup Fever spread rampantly throughout the building and I finally succumbed to it,
using sports articles and broadcasts as a forum in which to highlight grammatical
constructions and build vocabulary skills. Needless to say, by the end of June the students
in each of my classes had learned the word for goal in over seventeen languages. And I
had learned to say Thank God its over! in four.
I had also learned about bandeja campesina and sobrebarriga. My Colombian
students, by far the most affected by this futbol malady, would regale the class with the
customs and traditions of the previous days viewing revelries. Food, of course, was a
central theme and I loved hearing about it. All of my Colombianos encouraged me to
visit their home away from home-- Tierras Colombianas-- in Jackson Heights. They
made me promise to sample their two favorite dishes- a bandeja campesina and
sobrebarriga. The food, they assured me, would be muy delicioso y muy autentico.
Deliciousness and authenticity sounded like a good beginning so I hopped a Seven train
shortly after and found myself in the midst of Colombian Jackson Heights.
After nestling into a cozy booth at the very clean and plain diner-like restaurant, our
solicitous waiter assisted us in ordering. We began with batidos, milk-based fruit shakes
that are very popular in the majority of Spanish-speaking countries. Both the mango and
papaya were refreshing on such a sweltering day. Before we could even finish humming
along with the infectious cumbia hit that filled the spacious room, our dishes arrived,
fresh and absolutely massive. The bandeja campesina or country plate, was a large oval
dish upon which a mind-boggling assortment of food had been artfully arranged-- a heap
of well-oiled and perfectly salted rice, delectable and garlicky pink beans studded with an
occasional piece of salt-pork and plantain, two long slices of sweet and firm fried banana
known as maduros, a deep-fried piece of chicharron or pork rind, a more than
generous slab of grilled top round, a fried egg (!!), a corn cake or arepa, and a hunk of
just-cut, pale green avocado.
Dr. Atkins would be thrilled. My hematologist would not. Dont worry about all the
meat, youre anemic, my companion coaxed. Truthfully I was more concerned with my
hips than my cholesterol but one look at the gorgeous, svelte, country-plate-consuming
Colombian beauties at the table next to us and I decided that Dr. Atkins might be on to
something after all. I broke off a piece of the chicharron. Love at first bite. I wouldnt
have to worry about my iron counts for at least another two years. At a mere ten dollars,
Tierras Colombianas, must have some insidious deal worked out with the neighborhood
cardiologists. Its just way too good to be true.
The same ten dollars bought us an order of Chuleta Empanizada-- a long, rectangular
thinly-pounded, pork cutlet breaded and fried and served with salad, rice, beans, and
maduros. Snow-white and tender, we loved every bite. Sobrebarriga en Salsa was flank
steak that had been cooked in a savory tomato and onion based sauce until it could be cut
with a fork. Another winner. The potato that had simmered with the stew-like entree had
absorbed much of the flavorful sauce and was the perfect accompaniment.
In addition to prodigious amounts of meat, the menu at Tierras Colombianas also
boasts a fair share of low-cholesterol protein selections as well-- steamed red snapper,
fried trout, porgy, and grilled seasoned chicken are just a few of them. Colombians take
their soups known as sancochos very seriously and many of the people around us were
savoring copious bowls of the days special along with plates of piled-high rice. There is
a different soup each day-- fish, corn, hen, ox tail, beef ribs, tripe etc.-- and ox tail (cola)
and hen (gallina) are the most coveted. Im waiting for a cold winter day to partake of this
What more damage could a few extra eggs and heavy cream do after our Atkins
extravaganza? Not much we decided, and promptly ordered the flan and rice pudding.
Both were creamy and cool, a lovely ending to a rustic meal, however heed my advice
and wait until you leave the restaurant to satisfy your sweet tooth. One of Jackson
Heights best kept secrets is Stellas laundry cart parked on the corner of 82nd Street and
Roosevelt Avenue. Although she in not always there, when she is, Stella will create two
scrumptious sweets for you-- obleas which are paper thin wafers stuffed with a caramel
concoction known as dulce de leche and solteritas, disc-shaped cookies made from rice
that are swathed with ribbons of raspberry syrup and condensed milk. Absolutely
ambrosial. Dont resist the temptation. Tomorrows are precisely what diets are for.
82-18 Roosevelt Avenue
Jackson Heights, NY