A friend and I headed to the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco on Sunday–a place that I think is far and away the most beautiful spot in Bogotá–and on the way stopped to get some lunch. We went to Sopas de Mamá y Postres de la Abuela, a chain that’s especially popular with families on lazy, drizzly Sunday afternoons. Not particularly hungry, I focused on the entradas (appetizers) section of the menu. One option, Corazoncitos de pollo y papas criollas, sounded light but filling. I also have a huge weak spot for papas criollas. A small dish of these yellow potato teenyboppers mixed with some chicken sounded like it would hit the spot quite nicely. I ordered una limonada natural to drink.
When the waitress brought the dish, I was confused to see a small mountain of strangely-shaped black objects on my plate interspersed with the anticipated papas criollas. ¿Eso es pollo? I asked the waitress. That’s chicken? I asked, very skeptical. She nodded and left me to contemplate the mysterious burial mound before me that was composed of what looked like parts of no chicken I’d ever hitherto encountered. I remember thinking, ¿Pollo chamuscado o qué? Scorched chicken, or what? I just couldn’t account for the black color. My mouth not exactly watering, I had no choice but to wish myself a very perfunctory bon appétit and dig in. My friend said that maybe it was hígado or molleja–liver or the gizzard–which happened to not ratchet up my enthusiasm a lick. Meanwhile, he started into a bowl of delicious chili that I wished I had ordered or that he’d be chivalrous enough to give me in exchange for my burial mound (he did share very generously). Not wanting to look like a baby, an ingrate, or a wasteful person, I resigned myself to sucking it up and eating as much of the dish as I could stomach.
To my surprise, it–whatever “it” was–was pretty good. It tasted close enough to chicken and had a normal mouthfeel. No alarm bells went off in my head, but then I leaned in to inspect the black things more closely. They were clearly individual, self-contained units, as if they’d been cranked out on a factory belt. These were not pieces; these were parts. There was also a very suspicious tube-like apparatus poking out of each of them. Baffled, I made myself eat more of them–plate to mouth, plate to mouth, my spirit very lackluster but my palate surprisingly not minding in the slightest. I made sure to space out the papas criollas so that I wouldn’t eat all the good stuff and then find myself facing an entire plate of these black doodads.
And then it hit me: I was eating hearts!!! Chicken hearts!!! Little chicken hearts!!! But, of course! That’s exactly what the menu had said! Corazoncitos de pollo: little chicken hearts. Or, simply chicken hearts, but said with affection, cutesiness, or merely for no reason at all, that Colombian tendency to diminutivize willy-nilly just for the fun of it. Chicken hearties, chicken heartlets. They had spelled it out for me with Plastilina and quedé gringa. Oh, I felt so bruta, bruta, bruta. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How could I be so dense? How had it not sunk in? The menu had clear as day specified chicken hearts, I had ordered said chicken hearts, my plate was piled with what should have been unmistakably chicken hearts. And yet . . . I knew not what I ate. My dining partner and I laughed for what felt like hours, but my laughter was decidedly bitter.
Let it be said that at no moment had the restaurant lied to me or deceived me in any way. Had I tried to sue, I would have been laughed out of the attorney’s office by the doorman. How can corazoncitos de pollo be understood as anything but, well, corazoncitos de pollo? Because I didn’t realize it was literal, that’s why. I didn’t take them at their word. Because–and this is so very embarrassing to admit, so bear with me–I read corazoncitos de pollo and thought I was going to get small portions of chicken breast in little heart shapes. That’s right, blog: I am everything I denounced in my Freshly Pressed post last March. I am cursi. Yo, la más cursi de todos. I’m poetic, I’m Romantic, I’m figurative, I’m cheesy. Go figure. While the restaurant called al pan, pan, al vino, vino, y a los corazoncitos de pollo, corazoncitos de pollo (that is, they called the proverbial spade a spade), I had to get all symbolic and thus finally received my just desserts: a platter spilling over with chicken hearts. Well, call me a literalist from here on out.
It was all so obvious in hindsight. That distinct heart shape, that little tube poking out (the aorta). And, yet, it truly didn’t have an organy or offal taste. I’d eat them again if I had to without so much as a whimper, but I probably won’t be ordering them. Certainly not by accident. I made myself eat about half of them–I ate about 15-20 little chicken hearts all told, which still blows my mind. But, hey, at least they weren’t little chicken testicles, little chicken brains, or little chicken eyes. I probably won’t be calling any romantic partners mi corazoncito any time soon, either–the associations with black chicken ventricles and atriums is just too fresh in my mind, mouth, stomach, whatever.
On the bill, it said corazones, probably to save space. Now, if it had said corazones de pollo on the menu, I absolutely would have understood it. The diminutive version, however, threw me for a very regrettable loop. Even my friend–a Colombian–didn’t make the connection, not even when it was right in front of us. Beware of diminutives! They can make even the rankest, most pernicious things sound downright adorable. Don’t be hoodwinked! This mistake had nothing to do with my level of Spanish; instead I didn’t think of the literal meaning of the word and let myself be beguiled and charmed by its darling, innocent-sounding name.
Have you ever been deceived by a food’s name in Spanish and eaten something awful? I ate chunchullo once–chitterlings/intestines–without knowing what it was and felt sick to my stomach. I also once lunched on chigüiro–capybara–without realizing it, but it was actually quite good. And another time I had mondongo–cow stomach soup–and did know what I was eating, and it was also good. But that’s the extent of my jaunts into strange eats. No bofe, no ubre, no sopa de menudencias for me. Not even if you diminutivize them–al perro no lo capan dos veces. (A Colombian proverb that figuratively means that smart people don’t make the same mistake twice; literally that a dog sure as heck doesn’t let himself be neutered a second time.)
And while we’re on the subject, let’s enjoy a great bachata: Aventura’s Mi corazoncito.