For a brief moment, I was in Bolivia, believe it or not.

I found myself today on Columbia Road in Arlington, taking a leather coat to be repaired. The neighborhood is filled with ethnic, and particularly Latin, restaurants. I decided to try one out for lunch. I wanted one that was not too expensive, or too fancy, or too time consuming. One where I would feel comfortable by myself, and not conspicuous. I wanted one with easy parking. I chose El Rey Pollo, because chicken sounded good to me, and the big neon sign said “OPEN”.

It is a good size restaurant, quite plain in decor. Kitchen-like tables of various sizes, with absolutely nothing on them. It was 12:15, and it was empty. It looked clean.

I saw that I needed to order at the counter. I then made two other discoveries. One, there was no menu, except for the extensive menu on the wall above the counter, and two, the wall menu was written only in Spanish, and only using words that I had no familiarity with (there were very few exceptions to this, perhaps there were three Spanish words I recognized, and there was one column that, for some reason, was titled, in English, Bolivian soups.)

The English of the staff was the equivalent of my Spanish, so translation was out of the question. I wound up with the specialty of the day, chicken on rice, with a spicy sauce, a yucca (or was in chuna, a dried potato) salad with raw onion and tomato, and a half of a skinless baked potato which I didn’t touch. The food was fine.

But the menu was not. I wrote down some of the items and, now that I have an idea as to what they are, I thought I should share some of them with you.

The soups were fricase, ranga, rinon, and kawi. I now know that this means, basically, pork, yellow cayenne pepper and hominy soup, beef tripe and potato soup, beef kidney and potato soup, and beef soup with fried quail, rice and potatoes.

The roasts (asados) were silpancho, laphing, lomo saltado, pique macho, milanese and charque. I now know (I think) that this means: stovetop cooked breaded beef strips and eggs; steak, white corn, potatoes and fava beans; marinated steak and vegetables; beef, hot dogs or sausages, peppers, potatoes, onions and boiled eggs (if you can finish the pique macho, you are macho); beef or chicken served with fried eggs; and a dish of beef, corn potatoes and cheese (although charque is also a name for jerky, as in beef jerky).

This is only a part of the menu; I can see what the staff could not explain any of it to me. But who would have guessed, walking into something that looked like a grilled chicken house, that you would find all of these Bolivian treats? (Oh, yes, they did have chicken, too.)

One more thing to report. The odd building that the restaurant is in seems to have three tenants, a large laundromat, the restaurant and a car loan office. Car loan offices have developed a new notoriety today, with an article in the Post about how you can borrow $2000 or so by handing over the title and a second set of keys to your car, but the interest rate is a killer and if you don’t pay it all back in 30 days, you don’t have a car any more. There are apparently a fair number of these in Virginia; they are illegal in Maryland and DC. My guess is that they won’t be there for long.

At any rate, there it was, a car loan office, which I would have paid no attention to, but for the article. There were no customers, only one very heavy lady sitting at her computer. The back wall was glass, so as I walked by, I could see what she was typing. I was interested to see if it had to do with the newspaper story.

No, it didn’t. She was in some sort of a chat (that is, she would type something, and someone would respond, on an otherwise blank screen). What I saw was simple:

I can’t do it.
Why not?
My husband.
It’s time you divorced him, don’t you think.

I couldn’t quite believe it. Something in me wanted to stay and find out how the story would end for the day, but I knew that the glass was not one-way, so I just kept on walking.


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