Early in our courtship, my now-husband invited me to lunch at a Colombian restaurant. I knew a little about Colombian food, but was anxious to try more dishes under the expert guidance of my new boyfriend from Bogota, Jorge.
The server brought the menus and she and Jorge exchanged pleasantries in Spanish while I said Gracias a lot and nodded vigorously. Everything sounded so wonderfully exotic that I wanted to try it all, but didn’t want to leave Jorge with a huge check so early in the dating game—or myself with split seams. Jorge, however, insisted that I get a good sampling of Colombian fare, and he rattled off a list of delicacies we had to have.
I left my “modest” order for arroz con pollo, beans, salad and sweet plantains with Jorge and ran to the rest room. Tall glasses of sorbete de lulo and limonada de coco were being set down at our table as I walked away. Lord only knows what gastronomic pleasures I’ll find on the table when I return, I thought to myself.
When I came back, I asked Jorge what he had ordered for himself. He answered, “A bowl of soup.”
“And what else?” I asked.
“Nothing, that’s enough for me,” he replied casually.
What was going on, I wondered. Why had he suddenly changed his tune and only ordered soup while insisting I have more in one sitting than I normally have in a whole week? Was it some kind of trick to see how big my appetite was? The more I pressed him about only having soup, the more reticent he became. Oh, dear, I thought, maybe he forgot his wallet and is too embarrassed to say so. Before I could say another word, the waitress was at the table, depositing heaping plates of food—on my side.
“You’ll have to help me eat all of this,” I said, embarrassed by my bounty and his glaring lack therof.
Just then I saw the waitress heading back to our table, visibly struggling under the weight of a tray laden with yet more food. I was about to protest when she unloaded every bit of it in front of him. The centerpiece was a large soup bowl—actually, more like a tureen.
“What is all this?” I asked, confused.
“It’s my soup,” Jorge replied and burst out laughing.
And that was my introduction to Sancocho Colombiano, a buffet in a bowl that has about as much in common with regular soup as cheese does with cheesecake. I watched in amazement as he pulled out what seemed like sides of beef and pork and at least half a chicken from the bowl and put them on his plate to cut them up. Even without the meat, the bowl of savory broth was still filled to the brim with chunks of potato, yucca and sizable pieces of corn on the cob. And as if that wasn’t enough food to sink a ship, it was served with sides of rice, avocado and a salad.
“Just a bowl of soup, huh, Señor?” I asked him sarcastically. “And to think I was worried that you’d forgotten your wallet and were afraid to tell me. I was trying to figure out how I could offer to pay without embarrassing you, you big, fat Colombian liar!”
He downright guffawed at that and said he knew better. “Everyone knows there is no such thing as a free lunch, querida. Not in Colombia and not in the United States.”
I was reminiscing about this incident last weekend after my debacle of a Father’s Day celebration for Jorge (whom I eventually married despite the soup prank). I am well known for my event planning capabilities, pulling off elaborate themes and schemes to mark all occasions, from birthdays to anniversaries to nail clippings. This year I had planned a series of surprises for Jorge, every single one of which, incredibly, blew up in face. If it could go wrong, it did and Father’s Day morning found me unexpectedly facing my husband empty-handed. I was so disappointed, but he took it all in good-natured stride.
I ended up taking him out to an altogether unspectacular place for lunch and despite all my missteps for the day, we had a lovely time. Right up until the check arrived. I reached into my purse for my wallet, and panic shot through me. I remembered I had locked my wallet in the glove compartment of my car when I had gone to the dog park earlier that morning. We had driven to the restaurant in Jorge’s car.
When I told Jorge that I didn’t have my wallet and that he would have to pay for his own Father’s Day lunch, he asked if I had been waiting twelve years to pull this trick as payback for the sancocho incident. I laughed and reminded him that he was the one who bragged about knowing there was no such thing as a free lunch.
“That’s true,” he said, nodding his head. “Not in Colombia and not in the United States.”
And not, unfortunately for him, on Father’s Day either. Live and learn, friends, live and learn.