The sunshine yellow trim of the La Bodega Latina, a corner store and deli geared toward Spanish-speaking immigrants, peeks out above the eight-foot-high pile of dirty snow along Congress Street. I'm a third-generation American. My great-grandparents were Poles. I enter. The Guatemalan young men inside, wearing low jeans and sweatshirts, look wide-eyed with surprise at me, a tall, lean white lady with her young daughter.
BEFORE + AFTER: Yuca root (top), and bollos de yuca (bottom).
What are these? I ask the young cashier who's come to dole out what I request from the heated glass deli case. I was curious about the things that looked like short, fat corn dogs.
She says something slippery and fast, boyosdayyooka.
"Pollo?" I say lamely with my old Wisconsin high-school Spanish.
She shakes her head and says it again more slowly: boyohs day yooka.
Still, no comprendo. "Would you mind writing it down?" I ask, holding out my little spiral journal.
Mildly put out, she takes the pen. In beautiful handwriting I see what would become the object of my fascination for the next month: "BOLLOS DE YUCA." I'd be up late nights, measuring the temperature of my peanut oil and scrambling around online trying to find recipes. The one I gleaned from a later cooking session with Jasmin, the cook at La Bodega, was missing something. I'd done just what Jasmin had showed me. Peel the thick, black waxy skin off the yuca root with a knife; grate the hard, white core on the fine holes of a box grater; add a ton of margarine, an egg, salt, and sugar; and then roll the meat into the center and deep fry. But my bollos were exploding in the oil and turning black
Now that I know this thing is basically a meat-filled doughnut, I get why that Saturday my five-year-old daughter gobbled up nearly the whole thing before I intercepted the last bite. The crispy, golden outside gives way to a soft, steamy layer of deliciousness (a little bit more chewy than fried potato) and inside, magically seasoned ground beef.
We gobbled up more treats right there, including empanadas (basically, deep-fried pie) and chicharrones, these incredibly crispy, chewy, deep-fried pork rinds sprinkled with fresh lime. You know what's more shocking than how much fat we consumed? For the rest of the day, I felt better physically than I have since high school. I'm 34. It was like I was a hunter-gatherer who'd just feasted on mastodon. Ah, safe from starvation for a while. A no-worries kind of day.
During my hunt to solve my little explosion problem I came upon translation of bollos de yuca online. It was buns of yuca. Suddenly Buns of Steel, an exercise video advertised endlessly on TV in the '80s featuring a high-cut workout suit and bare, sweaty, incredibly fit butt cheeks, leaped out of the blue of my mind like a lion whose territory was being tested. I never did use that video, but I am a health nut to this day, exercising five days a week, and usually steering clear of fats other than olive oil.
My mom used to tell me to do what feels right. I say buns of steel aren't really that sexy anyway. I think my husband, myself, and even those Guatemalan onlookers all prefer a little jiggle in these here buns.
Lindsay Sterling, who has posted the recipe for bollos de yuca at immigrantkitchens.blogspot.com, can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.