Among the typical Antiochian and Colombian food, my favourite is the Antioquian Fiambre. Perhaps because of the direct relationship it has with the rides of my childhood when we all packed our fiambre from the night before and we could not wait to unpack such a feast.
The smell of roasted bijao leaves in the kitchen, the sound of oil roasting pork skin and sausage, my mother delegating functions to each one, and all family gathered around the kitchen, are part of those memories.
The fiambre preparation is a good example of the direct connection between cuisine and culture, because it used to gather family and friends around it. To mention the word “fiambre” always meant a ride, a family reunion, good times and fun. Its preparation involved the whole family: the women cooked, but men helped cutting and preparing the bijao (a kind of banana plant) leaves, packing and tying well enough to ensure that everything would stay inside.
The fiambre is a dish used by our grandmothers to secure food for their husbands and families, when they were planters, farmers pickers, labourers or carriers, and they had to go to work in the fields daily for long hours or when for one reason or another they needed to travel short or long distances and this prevented them from returning home for lunch. The inventiveness and resourcefulness of our farmers must be highlighted for creating a product so assertive. A solution that efficiently responded to the needs of the people of that time: portability, ease, economy and quality. The Fiambre was the best choice, because people were able to eat anywhere and as soon as they wanted, just had to have a spoon or a fork in order to enjoy the rich variety of flavors, even if the food was cold.
It is basically a preparation of rice, ground beef, fried slices of ripe plantain, sausage, roasted pork skin (chicharron) and corn bread (arepa), but it can have more or less items according to personal preferences: since the essence of this dish is the way of wrapping the food and its own portability.
Another advantage of the fiambre is that its content are everyday products, easily available and non-expensive.
As I mentioned above, what gives the Fiambre its essence is the envelope made of plantain or bijao leaves. It is recommended to be careful when cutting the leaf, hopefully from the stem, in order to use the full sheet. After cutting, the leaf must be properly washed and dried and then roasted in order to make it more flexible, easy to handle, and remove natural fluids that can spoil the taste of the food.
The Fiambre is a combination of foods already prepared, therefore they should be properly cooked or fried, according to the preferences of the guests:
Fried Pork skin (Chicharron)
Fried Slices of ripe Plantain
Having the bijao leaf properly prepared, we start placing the ingredients on it. The rice goes first, which is the ground for everything else, then we add the meat powder, plantain slices, sausage, chicharron and any other components, properly distributed. The next step is to cover everything perfectly, wrapping around the bijao leaf. Then we continue tying it with a string or a piece of thread. The most important thing is to leave the Fiambre at rest long enough, so the food absorbs the unmatched flavor of the leaf, which is what characterizes this traditional preparation.
After a couple of hours resting, the food is ready to be enjoyed by the whole family. It should have acquired the leaf taste. Along with the concentrated smell inside the package, which is released once we cut the twine, both fascinates me. At last! To eat!
By Monica Chiquito