Costa Rican Food: Miel de Ayote

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An ayote relaxing on a bench, not even beginning to suspect what’s about to happen to it.

Good evening! It’s nearly Halloween, or it may even already be Halloween where you are, and you know what that means: you’re probably going to have a lot of pumpkin left over on November 1st! That’s why I decided to write this post, since an ayote is a gourd that’s pretty similar to a pumpkin. I understand that I probably should have written this post a week or two ago when people were carving pumpkins, but then again, it’s not like they’re actually going to eat the pumpkins they carved. So, here’s the deal: if you go to the supermarket on November 1st in the US or somewhere else that has pumpkins and they’re on sale, get one and try to make this recipe. Unlike other stuff like flor de itabo, you should probably be able to make this outside of Costa Rica.

I originally wrote about this on my personal blog about 5 years ago, and you can see that post here if you want. I used the same pictures since although I’ve enjoyed miel de ayote since then, I guess I’ve not taken any pictures of it in the meantime. Except this one:

This is my father-in-law holding an enormous ayote. So as you can see, the definition of an ayote is a bit fluid.

This is my father-in-law holding an enormous ayote he and my mother-in-law grew at their house. So as you can see, the definition of an ayote is a bit fluid.

First, you need your ayote. Like I said, it’s pretty similar to a pumpkin, but it’s got thicker skin. It’s hard out there for an ayote, so you need to have thick skin if you want to survive. If you can’t get an ayote, just go for a pumpkin or a squash and you’ll probably be OK. You’ll also need tapa de dulce. I actually heard from my mom that this is sold in Colorado at some stores, but if you can’t find it, you can probably also just use brown sugar. And finally, you’ll need a pot and a stove. If you have a wood-burning stove you’ll add ambiance and you’ll be a true Costa Rican badass, but it’ll probably be OK if you just use a normal stove, too. From there, just follow the pictures and enjoy after an hour or so!

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Wood-burning stove: optional, but only optional if you don’t mind doing it the wrong way.

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Step 1: Use a machete (or a big knife…again, if you want to do it the wrong way) to hack your gourd into big chunks.

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Step 2: Cut your tapa de dulce into chunks also (poser variation: use a bunch of brown sugar). Many thanks to our tapa de dulce model and my sister-in-law Toni, who cooked up this particular delicious ayote about 5 years ago and would probably be surprised to see these pictures again.

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Step 3: Wash the ayote. If the tapa gets wet, no problem. Put ‘em in a pot.

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Step 4: Make sure the fire is going strong in your stove. If it doesn’t look at least a bit dangerous, add more kindling until it does.

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Step 5: Add a cup of water or so. Or maybe a half cup. Either way, just probably keep an eye on it. I’d like to be able to give you more precise amounts, but Costa Ricans like to play it a bit fast and loose with kitchen measurements.

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Step 6: After an hour or so, it should start looking like this: like a chunky gremlin stew. Just remember that it should be post-transformation gremlins. Remember the saying: “If it looks like a mogwai, it’s probably a raw guy. If it looks fed after midnight, it’ll probably taste alright.”

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Step 7: Serve it up! You can eat it plain or with milk or cream. There will also be some syrupy stuff, which of course is where the recipe’s name comes from (“miel” means “honey” or “syrup” around here…did I forget to mention that?). Anyhow, you can also put some of that syrup on the ayote, and/or the syrup tastes awesome on ice cream. Enjoy!

What about you? If you’re Costa Rican, how did I do? Did I capture the allure of miel de ayote, without giving away too much about the secret to making it? And if you’re not in Costa Rica, have you ever tried it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Everyday Life In Costa Rica: RTV

There are three initials that cause nearly every Costa Rican to groan when they hear them. No, I’m not talking about TQM (te quiero mucho), although many do groan when they hear that since it’s cheesy. I’m talking about RTV: The annual vehicle inspection required for all Costa Rican cars, trucks, vans, taxis, buses, and basically anything else with wheels except wheelchairs and oxcarts.

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This picture is actually about 4 or 5 years old but trust me: it’s still just as depressing of a place. And you are still always going to choose the wrong line. They also replaced the signage: it’s now a bit less Kindergarten-y, and I believe it now reads “Abandon all hope, ye who drive into here.”

Having a car in Costa Rica is very useful, and I actually couldn’t envision living where I do in the mountains without one. It’d theoretically be possible to take a bus to work, but I’d have to leave something like 6 hours before work. And that’d just be the first bus. So a car it is. It’s a bit of a necessary evil. Necessary for the aforementioned difficulty of getting around without one, but evil because they’re expensive as hell.

To start off with, almost any car, whether new or used, will cost about twice as much as the same car in the US. Interestingly, that seems to be even more true for used cars, since they’re almost always imported from the US, and therefore have to pay high import taxes. New cars may be able to skip the middleman of the US (and about 5 years of use in some salty, car-rusting place like south Florida), although they are still more expensive here. Then there’s gas, which is currently about $5.70 a gallon. If you’re a good Costa Rican–and I’m not–you also have to pay for water and soap to diligently wash it every week. And of course there’s also insurance, the annual registration, and the annual inspection, known as “Riteve” or “RTV.”

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The RTV station in Cañas. I stupidly decided to get my car checked there one year when I was teaching a class in Guanacaste once a week. I had the required appointment, but I still had to wait two hours. As did all these other saps.

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Another one of the RTV station in Cañas. I’m thinking the single inspection bay might have something to do with the terrible service. Might.

RTV stands for “Revisión Técnica Vehicular,” the meaning of which you should probably be able to work out. Rather stupidly, its also referred to as “Riteve,” and that’s even its internet domain name, despite the fact that it should clearly be “ReTeVe,” with an “e” instead of the first “i.” But then again, we also abbreviate combination as “combo” and not “combi,” so sometimes all logic goes out the window.

In fact, throwing away all logic is a good mindset to get into before going to the RTV. We have a (crappy) 1999 Nissan Sentra that often passes, but it hasn’t always. Today was one of those days, unfortunately. It apparently has tires that are too worn down and some exhaust problems. I asked about the tires, and he said I should have them checked if necessary. I pointed out that the purpose of the inspection was to check for things like tires, and asked, “But if it failed, doesn’t that mean that you guys determined that they need to be replaced?” And the guy responded, “Yes, but check them out to see which ones need it.” Well, that’s kind of a non-answer, but oh well.

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“This is where the magic happens.” They’ve also updated the inside a bit, with flatscreens and everything. It’s a Spanish company that runs RTV, so they’ve probably got to make it seem like the money they’re fleecing us out of is used for something.

I’m more concerned with the emissions part. Some gas or what-have-you called “CH” or “HC” (I forget) was apparently measured at 200 something, but it can’t go over 100. So now I need to find someone who can actually measure that crap and take some kind of actions to fix it. And then return to Alajuela to re-inspect it. That’s actually the worst part. It’s about a two-hour round-trip ordeal to get our car to the closest inspection place, and you need to find a time when you’re not working to get it done, of course. And there’s a $20 charge for the first time, and re-inspection will cost about $10. I’d actually be happy to pay double that if I could just do it closer, but that’s just the way it is.

I do think there should be some kind of inspection to keep shitty vehicles off the road, but this inspection obviously is not it, since the roads are flooded with shitty cars belching out all kinds of crap way worse than my car. I’m not trying to make excuses for my own car, but I do smell something in the air that’s not my car’s CH/HC: it’s a rat.

Anyhow, if you have a RTV story you’d like to share, or if you live somewhere else that also requires inspections (or doesn’t), feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading!