Have you ever had a meal that burned itself into your memory? Can you recall the taste, the texture, the conversation. Can you feel the breeze once again caress your skin? Does the mention of that meal transport you back in time to that moment?
I have had several of these life-altering moments. Each of these meals were a meaningful event. A pinnacle of culinary discovery and sensation. A moment in time so thoroughly enjoyable that I snatched it from the universe and locked it away in my mind to be kept, admired, savored and remembered forever. Mine, all mine.
For some it’s the art. For others it’s the architecture or the culture. For me, it’s the food. And rightly so – food is art, and much could be known about a culture simply by its food.
We sped along a winding freeway weaving our way through the heart of Caracas. Warm air rushing into the car. The raspy sound of night traffic as people made their way to clubs, restaurants and parties was somehow soothing to my ears. The bright lights of a city that stretches out through a great valley light up the dark sky. In spite of the car exhaust and sewage, the smells of perfume, tropical plants and mountain soil all mix together to create an aroma that makes me happy. I like Caracas. I miss it.
My heart raced as we began to climb up a steep, winding road. We drove higher and higher into the hills. The air growing more cool and fresh with every turn. At last we arrived. “Calle de hambre” is literally translated to mean “Hunger street.” Rudimentary outdoor restaurants, food trucks and stands. Where Caraqueños would swarm in the late hours of the night to satiate their ravenous hunger and sober up after a long night of festivities, partying and having fun. It was 11:30pm when we arrived, the “early-bird” hour. We had all the stands to ourselves. The proprietors were busy cooking and prepping, having opened their shops only two hours ago.
Standing next to a picnic table with my friends, overlooking a city of lights below, and the stars above, is where I had my first Bomba.
A Bomba “Bomb” is not for the faint of heart. It is a marvel of engineering and a culinary feat of prowess and strength. A soft-steamed over sized hamburger bun filled with a fresh ground beef patty, fried ham steak, grilled pork shoulder, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, alfalfa sprouts, shredded lettuce, sliced ripe tomato, pickles, thinly sliced crispy onions and avocado with a fried egg thrown in there for good luck. Eating it is just as complex. As you consume this culinary juggernaut, you continuously squirt it with a combination of garlic sauce, ketchup, mustard and tahini mayo.
As I stood there looking out onto an ocean of shining lights, cradling my paper-wrapped Bomba, I distinctly recall a tear streaming down my face – a tear of joy. “This is life.” I thought to myself. If you have ever wondered how people can put up with a fascist president, communism, capitalism, inflation, rampant crime and poverty, it’s because of this sandwich – the $4 Bomba. This sandwich makes life worth living. When you’re sharing a Bomba on a breezy hill under a tropical sky, the problems of life dissipate into trivial murmurs. I doubt rapid gun fire could rip your attention away from a proper Bomba once you’ve embarked on the intricate journey of devouring it with all four sauces.
I have no recollection of how I got home that night.
This is the closest I can get to reproducing a Bomba here in America. It’s not the same without the city lights, the mountain air, the car exhaust, distant gun shots, and the company of my good friends. But it comes pretty close.
Venezuelan Bomba Recipe:
Yields: 1 big F*#@ beauty of a sandwich!
Ingredients for the Bomba:
– An over sized hamburger bun (I sometimes make bread-dough and custom bake them extra big)
– ¼ Lb of ground beef (seasoned with salt, pepper, soy sauce, and liquid smoke)
– 1 ham steak
– ⅓ cup of thin-sliced roast pork shoulder (for faster recipe, use pork tenderloin and grill with Cajun seasoning)
– Alfalfa Sprouts
– Shredded Lettuce
– Swiss Cheese
– Kelapo Virgin Coconut Oil
– Kosher pickle slices
– Fried Onion slices
1. If you’re baking your bun, you can use pizza dough or bread dough. These sandwiches turn out even better when the bun is warm and fresh-baked.
2. Have all your ingredients diced, sliced, and prepped.
3. Take a deep breath. Do some P90X. Buy your wife something nice.
4. Put a tbsp of Kelapo Virgin Coconut Oil on a skillet and fry your burger patty (flatten it), fry the ham steak and throw in the pre-cooked slices of roast pork.
5. Begin to assemble your sandwich and finish it off with a fried egg.
This is my rendition of the sauces.
Garlic Sauce: Mayonnaise with a tonne of fresh minced garlic and parsley.
Mustard: Yellow mustard.
Ketchup: Ketchup (made with sugar – don’t use the stuff made with high fructose corn syrup)
Tahini Mayo: Mayonnaise mixed with a little bit of tahini (sesame seed paste) and black pepper to taste.