Sweetheart, What's In the Soup?

by Alejandro Nieto

SOMEONE ASKED ME ONCE WHAT I MISS THE MOST ABOUT COLOMBIA AND I SAID: MY MOM'S FOOD. PART OF THIS STORY IS INSPIRED BY TRADITIONAL COLOMBIAN FOOD; THE OTHER PART HAS TO DO WITH MY FASCINATION WITH MUSIC JOURNALISM. AROUND THE TIME I WROTE THIS SHORT STORY, I HAD READ SOMETHING ABOUT DAVID LEE ROTH'S LEAPS ON STAGE, AND HOW HE BROKE HIS ANKLE WHILE DOING A LEAP FOR THE ART of the van halen II album. THE ROLLERBLADING PART OF THE STORY COMES FROM A DREAM I HAD IN WHICH I WAS skating DOWN A HILL IN BOGOTA WITH THE CLASSIC VAN HALEN LINEUP: DAVID LEE ROTH, EDDIE & ALEX VAN HALEN and MICHAEL ANTHONY.

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I'm sitting at the breakfast table with David Lee Roth—Van Halen II era—trying to explain the concept of "Changua." Well, there’s also Eddie, Alex (shy Alex) and Michael sitting here with us, but they’re being so quiet they barely exist in the conversation.

So here I am telling David he's about to have soup for breakfast, and hoping that after that, he would tell me the story of how he broke his right foot making the leap that appears on the back cover of their last album; but he’s quicker than me and everybody else in the room, so he just looks straight at Joaquina, the in-house chef and asks her:

“Sweetheart, what’s in the soup?”

And Joaquina starts speaking Spanish, obviously, just because that’s what we all do around the house when it comes to great food. She shows him all the ingredients: eggs, milk, scallions, cilantro, salt, lots of love...  and when she finishes her explanation, she smiles at David. What she said might sound obvious to her, but not to him.

So David smiles and nods, as if he understood the name of every ingredient, as if he could stand up right now and make another changua himself. He looks down at the bowl in front of him, inhales the aroma and nonchalantly fills his spoon. I follow the trajectory from the bowl to his mouth, and as the flavors hit his tongue, I can see by the way his eyes pop that his palate is going as crazy as one of his fans in the first row. I smile because that reminds me of the first time I heard Van Halen, my ears reacted to the music the way his taste buds were now experiencing the soup. I consider the best way to explain that to him, so he’ll know I can relate to the way he’s feeling… but then I decide it’ll just take too long, and I can’t wait to attack my changua.

So we’re all there: sipping, slurping and savoring traditional Colombian breakfast food. It occurs to me that I should translate the ingredients and the preparation for David, but then I decide to just enjoy the moment, and I smile at him, looking for his approval, and he smiles back and proceeds to mix the bread on top of the changua, just like he saw me doing a second before.

When we finish with the changua, Joaquina gives us hot chocolate, made with cinnamon and cloves, and along with it, a cheese we call campesino, which is sweet and spongy, harder than mozzarella burrata but softer than a pecorino. Almost like a ricotta salata. It has the particular characteristic of absorbing just the right amount of hot chocolate, creating a perfect bite. Subsequently come the freshly baked arepas, with melted butter and doble crema cheese on top, and just a pinch of salt; juicy almojábanas and still-hot pan francés (the Colombian version of a mini-baguette), which she had personally selected from the bakery just minutes before.

And suddenly, in unison, the rest of the guys in the band break the silence to say a quick combination of something that sounds like: delicious, amazing, awesome… And then we are all done, and we sit for some time, reflecting on the food we’ve just enjoyed, until Eddie stands up and says:

“Guys, let’s go roller skating.”

We all look at him in disbelief, but then everyone seems to realize that you can’t disagree with Eddie Van Halen, so we immediately stand up and follow him; even David, with his astonishing presence, and his “fill up the stadium” looks.

And then it hits me: Yes, David has the looks and the charm, but Eddie makes the decisions, and everyone seems to understand that their role is to support him, just so he can come up with the crazy, unexpected ideas.

So here we are now… Probably the dorkiest scene I’ve ever seen… We’re all wearing roller skates—except for Joaquina—going down a hill, about to turn on a gigantic curve, and trying so hard to keep our balance, relax our hips and ankles, and dreaming of making the roller skates an extension of ourselves, even though that seems next to impossible because this is the first time any of us have done this.

And suddenly, the concept of riding roller skates seems less dorky, more natural; and the idea of having Van Halen, the real Van Halen, around the house, doesn’t seem so crazy after all.