It was a dark and stormy night. I was walking home past Maya del Sol. I realized there was just one thing I wanted to eat, and that was beef. A lot of beef.
Looking at the Maya del Sol menu, I knew immediately my dinner would have to be ropa vieja, which I’d previously shied away from ordering there because I thought it odd to have a Cuban item in a restaurant whose name suggested a focus on Mexican food. There’s a big difference between the food of these two cultures.
Mexican food is much more spicy hot than Cuban or almost any other food tradition in the world (with the possible exception of some Asian varieties – which get their heat from chile peppers that originally came from Mexico). Most other food of Latin American is, to my way of tasting, almost under-spiced: Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, Cuban, none of them deliver to me the tongue-tingling heat of Mexican food. Still, I like all these cuisines (though maybe not as much as I like Mexican).
In spanish, “ropa vieja” means “old clothes,” and this dish is typically a mess of stewed meat strands, sometimes mixed with sweet pepper and onion. The version of ropa vieja at Maya del Sol was spectacular: so succulent, with hints of pepper and onion and a dusting of cheese with some crema squirted on top: a dish that screamed BEEF.
Because ropa vieja is basically flank steak, it doesn’t contain a lot of fat; but because it’s stewed a long time, it’s very juicy.
Red meat has long been a bugaboo among those who try to “eat right” – still, every now and again, I find there are few foods that satisfy so completely as red meat. The ropa vieja I had at Maya del Sol that rainy night kept me happy until the next morning.