Monday, November 19, 2007

Pollo Campero


National pride in Guatemala appears to revolve around two products: 1) Gallo Cerveza and 2) Pollo Campero. Everyone consumes them as if they are part of the national anthem and pledge of allegiance to Guatemala (imagine: “Gallo Cerveza y Pollo Campero confiamos en ustedes! Somos orgullosos de nuestros productos nacionales! Gallo Beer and Country Chicken we trust you! We are proud of our national products!” I can hear the jingle now). They certainly are formative parts of their culture.

I remember when I first moved to Guatemala all people talked about was how I just had to eat Pollo Campero because it’s sooooooooo good. I ignored these Guatemalans for months because I didn’t want to do what everyone does and eat the Pollo. Everyday someone would ask me if I’d tried Pollo Campero and I would say no. “No!” they’d exclaim, “You have to try Pollo Campero! You can’t leave Guatemala without trying Pollo Campero!! WHY haven’t you eaten Pollo Campero yet!???” After every encounter my head would spin at their firm and loyal exclamations about fried chicken.

It was months before Pollo Campero came to me. In Flores, Peten, at the end of September’s data collection period I was staying with a Rotary family who ate good chapín (Guatemalan) food. On my last day we drove to the Pollo Campero truck (they don’t have a restaurant in Santa Elena) where Flor hopped out of the car and trotted up to the Pollo truck (like a taco truck but less cool). She came back carrying containers of fried chicken, tubs of cole slaw, a bag of cheap white bread rolls, and a two-liter of Pepsi. Right on. It was time to try the Pollo.

At the lunch table the whole family got right into their chicken. “Mmmm, nothing beats fried chicken and nothing is better than Pollo Campero,” they exclaimed. Mmm…. It’s decent as fried chicken goes, but Guatemalans have an insane level of pride in their national fried chicken.

Back in the capital, now that I’ve had my Pollo Campero cherry broken, I occasionally order the Pollo Campero meal for take out because nothing beats fried chicken. Only once have I stayed and that was to initiate Nick and Brian to the experience. You see, you can’t leave Guatemala without having eaten at Pollo Campero!

Walking into the restaurant is instant chaos. The restaurant is always busy. And I mean always busy. No matter the time of day the restaurant is packed with Guatemalans happily gnawing on chicken legs, dunking champuradas (like a cookie) in sugary coffee, and licking soft serve white and pink ice cream cones. People are happy to be in Pollo Campero. It’s a privilege to eat at the nation’s most popular restaurant. They are proud of their Pollo Campero!

Dozens of bustling employees dressed in immaculate khakis, bright orange hats, and orange and yellow Pollo polo shirts dart towards you directing you to empty seats, handing you brightly colored menus and scattering to other calls being shouted through their radio headsets (whose heard of sit-down-before-you-order fast food?). Waitresses take orders on electronic pads meaning your order of the Pollo Campero combo (two pieces of fried chicken, one small fry, one unhealthy white roll, and a small Pepsi cola) is instantly relayed to the five guys waiting to fill orders. Five seconds later (literally) out comes a tray full Correl indestructible plates laden with the grease bomb order. There’s hardly time to breath before your order is ready. I can picture the staff in the back high-fiving at another successful 5-second delivery of fried chicken.

There is always some orange and yellow employee bustling around mopping or sweeping the floor right under your feet, hovering around to take your plate the instant it is chicken-less, or waiting expectantly for you to order their delicious coffee and champurada snack-time offering. It’s always time for refacción, or snack hour, in Guatemala, and what is better than a tummy full of fried chicken topped off with coffee and champuradas, pues.

Pollo Campero is really something. It’s the Bonanza, the Texas Steakhouse, the McDonalds, or the KFC of Guatemala. But, as Guatemalans so frequently say, “Oh, but it’s so much better than KFC! I had KFC once in the United States and Pollo Campero is just soooooo much better than KFC, pues. Sí, vos, mucho mejor, Pollo Campero. We used to take it on the airplane when visiting family in the United States, vos. That’s all they wanted from Guatemala was Pollo Campero because it’s sooooo good, vos. Pues… sí…delicioso.” It is considered a sacrilege not to consume the Pollo Campero.

It is also probably the most common place to take a girl out on a date. I mean, who could resist the irresistible smells of fried chicken and a date at the country’s most popular fast food restaurant? I, for instance, have now officially been asked on two dates to Pollo Campero. The latest happened just today. I was walking down my street towards home when the new little guard for the thirteen story apartment building trotted across the street saying, “Ah, yes! You live around here? Oh yes, I thought, I hadn’t seen this blanquita, this little white lady, before. Oh, yes. I will take you out to Pollo Campero on a date? Just come by? Give me your phone number and we can go to Pollo Campero.” I tried not to laugh because I suppose that takes a lot of guts to just ask some random white girl on a date. As politely as I could I said I was engaged (I’m not) and continued my walk down the street as the guard said, “Pues… sí… Pollo Campero! God bless you! Just give me your number and we can go to Pollo Campero… sí, pues....

Pollo Campero… national pride. Hooking guys and girls up for decades over a hot plate of fried chicken.

25 comments:

MJP said...

So enthusiastic! Bring some home at Christmas!

Nancy Patterson said...

No way. I'm sure we can get some in NYC.

Anthony Gallo said...

Dear Nancy,

You sound like the typical fat-assed american bimbo, pues. Go fuck yourself, gringa pisada come-mierda.

jules said...

Si pues...es la verdad! Pollo Campero? Lo mejor!

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