You may know that my dad is from Aruba, One Happy Island.
If you are not familiar with Aruba, it is part of the Netherlands Antilles, about 13 nautical miles off the coast of Venezuela (18 or so regular miles), south of the Caribbean hurricane zone, and notable for its absence of rainfall and its white sand beaches and crystalline waters. With sunshine guaranteed year-round, it is extremely popular with honeymooners and northern folks from wet places who want to know their vacation dollars won’t be wasted on a week in a monsoon.
It’s a gorgeous little place – and I mean little – Aruba is about 30 km (19 miles) long and about 8 km (5 miles) wide. You can drive around the island and dispatch with most of your touristic cultural obligations in about half a day, and return in good conscience to your beach towel for the duration of your stay.
Mind you, the natives, while welcoming, may make you wonder what your own educational system is doing wrong. Virtually everyone in Aruba speaks English well, in addition to Papiamento – the local language-, Dutch – which they study in school, and Spanish – which most people speak and understand tolerably well. Yeah, four languages per person is par for the course. Just putting it out there.
Pedro’s always made Aruban dishes here at home, and one of my favorite sides in the world is funchi – a corn meal mush that gourmands will recognize it as a close cousin of polenta. Lazy – I mean pragmatic – cooks like myself will recognize it as a lot less work than said continental cousin. Rather than spending a sweaty half hour or more over a steaming copper pot busting your biceps turning it with a wooden spoon, this takes about ten minutes and the results are very satisfactory.
Then you can pile any number of savory dishes on the top – fish with onion and pepper sauce (mojo isleno) is one of the most popular. I love slabs of it grilled; it makes the inside creamier and the outside crunchier, like surullitos or corn fritters, without the grease.
Since Pedro decided to abandon his crazy-ass diet for lunch on Father’s Day (and then promptly wrote me out of the food prep), I decided to make him some heritage food. You can check out the original VisitAruba recipe I adapted this from by clicking the link (and troll around the page to learn more about this tiny paradise). Be it known that Pedro provided critical advice for this, so while it is made by a second-generation Aruban (me), it was supervised by an real-live authentic native. And it was a terrific success — dear old Padushi started speaking Papiamento right away. Dushi! Masha bon, danki……
Funchi (Aruban Polenta)
1 ¼ Cups cold water
1 ½ Cups coarse/stone ground corn meal
½ tsp salt
1.5 Cups boiling water
1 Tbs olive oil (plus a little bit for greasing a mold or bowl to turn the funchi into)
In a heavy saucepan, mix cold water, corn meal, and salt. When relatively smooth, with no big lumps, stir in the boiling water and oil and bring to a rapid boil. Lower heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring continuously, for another five minutes, or until the mixture is stiff and pulling away from the sides. Turn the funchi into a greased mold or bowl and cover with a plate. Turn it over onto the plate and allow to cool slightly before scooping out and serving. Or allow to cool completely, cut into one inch slices, brush with oil and grill until crisp on both sides.