I sometimes wonder if you can gain insight into a nation's character by tasting its cuisine. After all, you are what you eat. The Korean pansori singing tradition emphasizes pain and suffering, like the blues, and their metaphor for love is spring rain, a drizzle barely noticeable at first that ends up soaking you. And their favorite dish is fiery, salty pickled cabbage, difficult at first to love and later on impossible not to. And every guidebook to China (even mine) uses the tired old cliche that Sichuanese people are feisty and fiery, like their food.
And so I think it appropriate that the national dish of Colombia is that swaggering macho cowboy carnival of a meal called Plato Montanero. That means hillbilly platter. It's too big for any human plate; it's served on two huge platters, and you need a third to eat it. You get a top round steak, very thin but a foot long, beans, rice, fried plaintains, a corn cake, and a chicharron as long as your arm. That, in Colombia, is a piece of deep-fried pork belly, including the crispy crackling skin. And, on top of it all, two fried eggs, sunny side up. There's bread and a salad too, in case you feel hungry.
The best plato montanero I've found is served at La Pequena Colombia in Jackson Heights. It's run by the same guys who used to own Crazy Chicken, and if you remember the crusty old guy who used to man the Crazy Chicken cash register, you'll see him there. And that's where I went tonight. The waitresses remembered me from last year. Why not? I'm the regular who is not Colombian. I needed serious nutrition, and the Plato Montanero was as good as ever. I ate every bit. Except that I left the bread. I'm not greedy.
La Pequena Colombia, 83-27 Roosevelt Av (718) 478-6528
They have a complete menu... but I always order the montanero. Except once I tried the beef roulade with creole sauce. It was quite good, but my heart belongs to that hillbilly platter.
This photo shows a much smaller version of what I had.
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