Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday, April 3, 2014

San Salvador, Havana and Buenos Aires



Hoping to pick up this Jugen Rodriguez painting the next time I am in Havana
 Another dry season and our Canadian visitor’s period is coming to an end and it went by pretty well. My parents came down for a 7 week trip and it was actually very relaxing and pleasant having them around. It helped that I took off for 2 of those 7 weeks and I also didn’t try to get them to do anything. They are in their late 70’s and were quite content to hang around the condo and read and watch TV and Korean novellas on-line. My Dad took a one hour walk each morning all through the neighbourhood (he only got lost once!) and my Mother did a couple of jigsaw puzzles.

Home made sushi and sashimi
I think they only saw the ocean a few times and only went to a pool once. We did have sushi a few times which was quite nice and lots of my favourite Korean and Japanese dishes.

They also took the opportunity to get some major dental work done and it cost about 30% of what it would have been in Canada. Plus Dr. Mendez here speaks fluent English, is up on the new techniques and materials, and has great equipment.
Toasting Misa with Veuve

My son Elliot came down for a week and we had a nice dinner with Fatima’s daughter and toasted my late sister’s birthday with her favourite Veuve.

Elliot and I got out 3 times to the golf course but no surfing this year.

Elliot and I went to the Joyo de Ceren archaeological site for the first time. I don't know why I haven't gone before. Only a half hour from the city, it is an amazing Mayan village that was abandoned and then preserved by a volcano. It was super cheap to go in ... and we were the only ones there! The property was very nicely set up for a walking tour and they had some nice copies of some of the artifacts for sale.

Excavated village at Joyo de Ceren
So I finally got my permanent residency status. It took me a bit longer than normal as I am in a common law relationship and not officially married. And in five more years, I can become a citizen and get my passport –which I will probably go for so that I can vote and travel through South America without paying the ridiculous reciprocity fees levied against Canadians.
Fatima looking quite important at the show. "Use the stick! The bigger stick!"

Fatima's Don Bosco school had a music and choral concert at CIFCO that we all attended. They were waiting for some dignitaries and kept thinking my Dad was the Japanese Ambassador and kept trying to get us to sit in the VIP area. There were about 200 kids in the orchestra, 300 kids in the choir, and over 4,000 kids in the audience! Elliot mentioned that he thought the sound mixing would have been extremely difficult to set up ... and it was and they couldn't use most of the speakers due to the feed back ... which meant the volume was too low ... which meant that 4,000 kids got extra bored and would not shut the f**k up despite numerous request to do so. But we were in the second row so we were able to hear better than most.


Padre Pepe on the left and 4,000 screaming kids.
The elections happened and it was quite the ride. All the newspapers’ polls showed the right ring Arena in the lead. The FMLN (Frente) weren’t worried as their polls showed they were well ahead – and the newspapers are controlled by wealthy right wingers so they weren’t particularly accurate. The former  president and head of Arena, Tony Saca, had formed a new coalition party called Unidad and was spending a lot of money on signage in the weeks prior to the election. He didn’t have a chance to win but I guess he (and his financial backers) felt it was worth the investment to try to grab a bunch of votes and then play kingmaker (in exchange for money and power) when the first election ended in a stalemate (Salvadorn law requires the winning party to have a majority of over 50%). But too bad for Saca that they only got 10% and the Frente was just below 50%. Heading to a run-off, there was no need for the Frente to negotiate with Saca for his votes as most were going to go to Arena anyways.

Arena was pushing the message that the new leader of the Frente was a more radical socialist and would push ES towards a Venezuelan styled mess. It didn’t help that Venezuela was melting down. It also didn’t help that a mysterious Ferrari had crashed into the roundabout and abandoned just below the presidential residence in the wee hours of the morning and left there ... with everyone knowing that President Funes was the owner of a dubiously acquired Ferrari ... and he shows up later with a broken hip. The residence is on Avenida Masferrer which has been renamed Masferrari.

Second round rolls around and it is very very close. Out of 3 million votes, they are only about 6,500 votes apart.  There are allegations of impropriety on both sides. I saw a picture of an Arena supporter trying to buy votes and being apprehended by the police … which was not reported in any newspaper or TV reports – again, likely due to most media channels being controlled by the wealthy right. I do know one person living in Illopango who had her vote bought for $20 and some Pollo Campero. That amount represented more than 2 days pay and the chicken was a bonus! The sad part is, I think she did vote for Arena out of fear of being caught out. I think for the next election, Frente should explain to everyone that a secret ballot is one of the foundations of a democracy and everyone should “sell” their votes to Arena and then do what they want to do in the voting booth.

So after the very close initial count on the night of the election, the electoral tribunal says they cannot call the election and will review the numbers. The leader of Arena, Norman Quijano, is actually a very well respected politician and was the excellent mayor of San Salvador for many years. He is being handled by a Miami campaign manager who has done a very good job of keeping a tight leash on Quijano ... until election night when the candidate finally took control of his campaign and got up on stage and says Arena was robbed of the election and that the army is standing by to enforce democracy. Really. Fascinating to see someone committing political suicide on live TV.  Even his diehard supporters were surprised by his brain fart.

So lots of commotion and Arena is demonstrating at the electoral tribuanal’s headquarters and the riot police are out which ends up ruining our Tuesday night beers and cigars at the Bennigan’s which is in the adjacent Torre Futuro where we can’t get to in our cars. Sanchez Ceren, the leader of the Frente, is doing a fantastic job of saying nothing, just like during the election campaign but he looks good in a suit and smiles and nods like a trustworthy uncle.

And, after a week, the tribunal calls the election for the Frente ... and nothing happens. People are just tired out from the week and let’s move on already. There is some fear that President Sanchez is going to go stark raving communist but at least this time, my American friends aren’t getting ready for the Frente administration by planning to sell all their assets and flee the country before everything is confiscated. Everyone is just hoping it doesn’t get too weird here.
I wonder if Hilary is going to do a repeat appearance and come to President Sanchez’s inauguration. Probably not but who knows, Obama was here a few times.

Great design and art work at O'Reilly 304 in Old Havana
So what else? Went to Cuba for business and was taken to some new and wonderful places. 

And great food but why don't Cuban chefs clean their shrimps! This happened everywhere I went and had to ask the owner to tell the chef to clean his shrimps!
Here is the funky O’Reilly 304 pretty deep in Old Havana.  Wonderfully renovated with some kick ass art and really good, fresh food simply prepared and great service.

Fancy Elite with no customers
Also went to the very fancy Elite where the rooms were tres chic and stylish but with mediocre food and no customers!

Delia and Manuela at Opera in Vedado
An Italian friend opened up the very interesting Opera restaurant and lounge. He wants to promote slow food and slow living and renovated his big old Vedado Mansion and set up a pool table and some interesting food. I think I had the rabbit and it was quite delicious although a bit underdone (slow food takes a lot more time than we gave him to cook our dinners).

Yo, Jose! Memorial flowers celebrating Marti's birthday. What do the "S's" stand for?
Another Italian place, Italia en Cuba, had been open for a year and my friend Claudio said the food was terrible. But I was in touch with the owner over Tripadvisor and he urged me to try the place and his new chef from Italy. So we go there and the owner doesn’t speak English and has no idea who I am so clearly he has cleverly hired a social media consultant. But the food is really good and adds to the evidence of the inverse relationship between decor and food quality quite commonly found in Cuba.

Smoking friendly area of El Litoral
Hmm, disputing this somewhat is the El Litoral restaurant on the Malecon just west of the US Interest Section. The place is gorgeously designed and has an outdoorish covered dining area (the former car park) where we can eat, watch Michael MacDonald DVDs with him singing “What a fool believes” on big screen TVs, and smoke cigars. 
The cold table with some tasty treats

The food was good but not amazing but they had a pretty good cold buffet table just like at that Italian place in the Melia Cohiba. Turns out the old manager of that restaurant opened up this place. Be careful what you choose though – the cheeses were good, as were the olives, but the salamis and sushi were not good. I went with my friends who were hosting me and Matt wanted to invite a work related person. His wife and I were like – no, don’t make us entertain your boring work connections again! But he called up the guy anyways and there he was, some writer from Toronto. Turns out this John Morris was a former station manager of CFNY – one of the greatest radio stations in North America. They were, I think, the last non-format station on the continent. That meant that the DJay could play anything he wanted – punk, classical, blues, whatever. This is where I became a fan of new wave music – Talking Heads, Thomson Twins, Human League – and discovered Jazz with lots of Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett being played. So I spend a good few hours asking John about the old days at the station and he tells me that he hired Dave Marsden and has some good stories about the Ramones and other visitors to the station.  I am so chuffed to meet John since CFNY had a profound effect on me and turned me from an Asian study robot into a music loving, free thinking, less of an Asian study robot. Then I started Djaying parties and finished high school and was expelled and suspended by the University College and the University of Toronto (respectively) in the same year, all thanks to the music!
Secretary General just drove by, time to wave my baton.

It was a bit of a weird week with the big Cumbre in town and the house I was staying at was one street over from the meeting hall. Lots of closed roads as the heads of a few dozen Latin American countries were in town. Everyone (Cubans and foreigners alike) were going crazy trying to drive in the city with numerous roads being blocked and magnificently exacerbated by Cuban traffic police with their randomly invented arm and baton swings. Hand a Cuban cop an illuminated baton and watch the weirdness commence. I know of a few occasions where drivers stopped in front of the cop to ask him, what do you want me to do? What does that twirling mean – should I go, should I stop, should I turn? Here is an example of a cop with a baton on 5ta Avenida as Ban Ki Moon drove by.

The Haggis being piped in by a Cuban bagpiper!
So if the week wasn’t unusual enough, Robbie Burns Day came around and I was invited to a single malt and haggis night.  Wow, never been to a dinner party where I had whiskey as an aperitif, with starters, with dinner and with dessert. Lots of single malts and lots of good blends including Johnny Gold and Blue. And the Haggi were smuggled in from England and were delicious! As was the lamb and the mashed potatoes and I think there was a trifle. Thanks to Laura and Brandon for the invitation and for being wonderful hosts. Ended the night with scotch and stogies on the pool deck. Looking forward to having Laura and Brandon visit ES when they get posted to Guatemala in the near future.
Cuban design work

Leaving El Salvador this time, there was a big sign at the airport saying that all residents travelling to various countries, including Argentina, were required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination. Now I encountered this once before entering Brazil and the guy was saying something in Portuguese that I could not understand until he got tired and waved me through. Turned out he was asking to see my Yellow Fever vaccination card. So now that I am a permanent resident, I figured I should get the vaccine. I asked around at the foreigner’s dollar hospital and they told me to go to a local policlinico in Vedado. We go there and just missed the nurse so my last chance is to go back the morning of my flight. She’s there this time and is happy to give me my vaccination and an international vaccination card she laboriously fills in by hand. Since it is a Cuban hospital, there is no way to bill or charge me but I managed to get her to accept $10 to buy some sweets for the nurses.

Hanging out with Stefan, my funk soul brother.
Head off to Argentina to visit my friends Stefan and Mary and all is good until I start feeling a bit under the weather. Then headaches, fever, joint and body aches and I am in bed for 3 days from a crappy reaction to the vaccine. Mary got me some really good drugs for my cold symptoms and was on my feet in a few days. 

Fantastic views of the city from Stefan's condo in Palermo
Fatima was supposed to fly down on a stand-by ticket but the flights were very full and she didn’t want to risk getting stuck in Lima on the connector. So we didn’t do a whole lot except eat lots of great steaks and drink some delicious wines. Went to Don Julio’s, La Cabrera and the La Catedra across from his condo. 

We didn't have a reservation at La Cabrera (need to do it a day in advance) so we had to wait a bit but got in for the popular second sitting. We were given a great table right at the front and beside the bar ... but it came with the oldest and slowest waiter in the place. It looked like he only had 4 tables and he had the shortest distance to walk to the bar and the kitchen pass through but he took forever! Other tables had wine, water and appetizers before we even got water ... and they came in after us! Still, the food was amazing and worth the wait.

Mary and Stefan looking super chic in front of La Cabrera



Food finally arrives and it was great.

We also tried a Korean restaurant in the big Chinatown. Had to get buzzed in and the place was quite nice except for a huge hole in the ceiling over one table. Big place with maybe 15 tables that could seat 8. We were the first ones there and there was no menu! Just a set meal that cost about $15 each. The appetizers came out and it was pretty good - the was chap chai, scallion pan cakes, then they brought bulgoi and sam gap sal (pork belly) for grilling, and then mandu (dumplings), large head on prawns for grilling, some spicy soup, and then large fresh oysters for eating raw or grilling. All that food for $15 ... but no kimchee! WTF! Probably couldn't get the right dried chillies for it. I spent a few hours that afternoon looking for it in all the giant Chinese stores with no luck. But happily they did have lots of cold beer and Soju.
Mary showing proper Soju pouring form.
The blue rate was even better this time – I think it went from 8 to 12 pesos to a dollar so I was able to buy Fatima some more very well made purses for about $100 each. Great quality, materials and designs.
The very amiable chef cutting a hunk of rib eye for me for a snack.
Stefan decided to host a big churascaria bbq and arranged for a chef to come. We went to the local Carrefour to buy charcoal and he later bought about 40 lbs of beef at the Jumbo. A few cases of wine and we threw together some salads. His condo has a ground floor pool and a great set up for a big bbq with an enclosed area with A/C in case it rains and is humid. 

Guests included friends, colleagues and training partners. The woman to the left of Mary is the female masters champion Iron Man competitor in Argentine. Great pipes.
I think there was 2 lbs of meat per person and we ate it all! Amazing cuts of rib eye, sirloin, flank, ribs. Then we sat outside and smoked cigars and tried to finish all the great Malbecs (unsuccessfully).
Hanging out with Stefan smoking cigars on his balcony.
Oh, I forgot that I had left Cuba with 9 paintings that Jurgen wanted me to try to sell in El Salvador. Mary was interested in two of them so I was carrying them in a separate tube.  At the stopover in San Salvador, I put the paintings down at an ATM … and forgot them there. I spoke with one of the airport managers who kindly went looking for it with me but it wasn’t anywhere to be found. When I got back, I called the airport and they had them! One of the cleaners had noticed it and turned it in to the lost and found! I was sure that they would be adorning the walls of someone’s house in LA or Washington. I think that I have good Karma as I always turn in items I find and tell people when I get too much change back.
One of the paintings I lost (and found) at Comalapa Airport in El Salvador. Still for sale if you are interested.
Back in San Salvador, I had to frame the canvases. I had been paying two different stores to box and stretch the paintings but the price had been jumping up from $100 to a quote of $160 for some large pieces. Then I found a guy who would do them for $50 each but he took forever and used hundreds of tiny nails which he noisily hammered in instead of using a staple gun.  So I had my parents bring down a cheap Stanley mitre box and saw, bought some cheap wood for $7 per 2.4 m and some small metal “L” brackets, wood screws and a staple gun. It took about 30 minutes to do the first one and I figure I got it down to 10 minutes in the end. The cost dropped to about $10 per painting. Then I needed more wood and Fatima stopped by a lumberyard and got me wood for $2 each so I figure I got the cost down to $3. From $160 to $50 to $3 … quite the savings. Mind you, the wood is much thinner but plenty strong.
More art for sale here in ES
So I had all these paintings in my house and was looking to place them at galleries. The main problem is that there isn’t much of a market here for paintings, especially expensive ones. I found a gallery who would take them to sell for $300 but would keep a 33% commission. I figured that price and that commission was a bit high.  Some friends of mine here were trying to help me and one of them was involved in decorating a new 24 room hotel in Tunco. They came by with the owner and the designer and decided to try hanging 4 of them.  I went down to visit the property and we made a deal for 4 paintings at a reduced price. Then I sold two others to a friend so I can go back to Cuba with some money to buy more art from Jurgen.  You can see his stuff on his website at http://art-2live.com/.
And this one too.

I still have a bunch of paintings if anyone is interested!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Havana and Quito


Another trip to Havana, another bunch of paintings. This was a commission of my friend's daughter Sophie and her dog.
Another trip to Havana for work. Stayed with my friend Delia this time in Vedado in the house where I lived for about 7 years. Vedado remains my favourite part of Havana and now there are many excellent places to eat and drink. Chansonnier and Atelier have always been favourites but now Starbien has established a great reputation and are keeping their standards very high. Not so with Mediterraneo which had a fantastic housemade sausage and porcini risotto a few months ago. When I went this time, no sausage and they used regular rice instead of arborio ... WTF?! I spoke with the chef/owner who said he couldn't get the proper rice and that his clients didn't mind it with the long grain rice. Hmm, wonder how long his place is going to last.

Matt and I at Starbien in Vedado

For addresses and further reviews, check out my buddy's site at http://www.cubaabsolutely.com/Havana_Guide/where_to_eat.php

Went to a new place with my buddy Claudio who is the expert on all new restaurants in Havana, especially the Italian ones. We went to Bellaciao at 19 and 72 in Playa. A bit off the beaten path but a really charming and funky place. The owner used to run Prado y Neptuno which was the first good foreign run restuarant in Havana in the 90's. The property is a rustic outdoor garden but the place was set up by someone with a good design sensibility. The waitresses, all very cute of course, wear black Che berets, floor length black aprons, and when they turn around, they are wearing very short cut off jeans. We had the owner order for us and he gave us very nice shrimps to start and then the best gnocchi I have ever had. Light, fluffy, pillowy ... mmmmm. Also a very good seafood ravioli. Washed down with a nice wine and then rum, cigars and espressos.

Interior and bar of Tao - Zao?

Also went to a new place in Habana Vieja. It is just beside Templete on the harbour, up a small alley and is called Tao or Zao. Very funky little place where we ordered snapper and got two very large and nicely deep fried fish on one order. Also had oxtail which was good but could have used another few hours braising. I really liked the plates they had and asked if I could buy one. I was prepared to pay $10 but was told that they were not for sale. They did mention that I could find them at a store on O'Reilly so went there a few days later. Found them at two stores and walked up and down the street twice carrying a set of 16 plates - way heavy but a good work out in the end. I had to go to two different stores to get the set but they were only $2.50 for the large ones and $2.25 for the salad plates. They feature a Cuban artist but are made in China.

Plate buying day in Old Havana, dropped by the Meson de la Flota to catch Angela's Cuban state dance accreditation exam. She passed!

Attended the Havana International School golf tournament and played with the principal, Ian Morris, who ended up tying best gross and won with the best net. Congratulations Ian! Donated a large bottle of JD for the Putt for Plonk. I went out to the green after the lunch and found two guys practicing. I was talking to one of the guys and asked him what he was doing in Havana and kind of insulted him about him cheating with all the practice shots he was taking. Found out later that he was the new Ambassador of a European country I won't mention ... sorry your Excellency!
Claudio and I awarding Luc for his winning putt.

He was the leader with his putt sitting a few inches from the cup until Luc from Canada drained his putt! Bought a few hundred raffle tickets and did pretty well after being shut out last year and came away with numerous bottles of rum, golf crap, and a night in a Varadero hotel.

Golf tournament swag! Ian looking a bit jealous but he'll have to make to with winning the tournament.

After the week in Cuba, I headed down to Quito, Ecuador to visit my friend Noel. Quito is quite high up so the sun felt very hot when it was out and it got very cool when it was cloudy and in the evenings.

Believe it or not, I think this was my first ride in the back of a pick up in my almost 20 years in Latin America

First impressions, Quito is a fairly organized city, quite clean with good roads. Traffic was pretty bad at times to the point that some cab drivers wouldn't do certain routes during rush hour. People were quite friendly and I met a lot of Noel's gringo and local friends.

Post parillada puros

Had one day in the valley under a blazing hot sun. Played soccer and Amerian football and then ate a few pounds of meet washed down with plenty of wine and beer. It was a party to celebrate the marriage of a co-worker so lots of nice family and friends. Broke out the cigars at the end which was very popular with many people partaking - including a woman doctor.

My great hosts in Quito, Noel and Jenny

Also participated in my buddy's office Christmas party which started up at the gondola over the city. We went to the go cart track and attempted to hospitalize each other under the guise of being competitive. The favourite manouevre was to blaze down the long straightaway behind your next target at ful throttle. When the cart in front braked, you would ram right into his back pushing him into the tires and slowing yourself down enough to make the tight right hand corner. After several runs, I finally figured out how to run fast - you either go full throttle or full brake with nothing in between and certainly no coasting. I was having a terrific run and passed about 6 people and was just behind the hypercompetitive Noel and Ryan when I turned a corner and found them stopped right in front of me chatting. My eyes went wide and I hit the brake as hard as I could ... and broke the cable ... and smashed into Ryan's cart throwing his head back and forward in an awesome display of whiplash. Luckily, he is virtually indestructible so no hospital visit needed.

I want to go to this party!
Fancy eats in Quito
Afterwards, went to a very high-end Japanese Peruvian fusion place. Gorgeous interiors but without a Japanese guy in the kitchen, the sushi was actually much worse than I could have even imagined. The rest of the food was pretty good (although pretty hard to do fusion properly without a strong understanding of both cuisines - randomly adding ginger and miso doesn't cut it) and the desserts were great.

Street food!

Did a street food crawl starting with Bolones de Chicharron (plantain masa balls with pork rinds) and Empanadas de Verde (deep fried emapanadas with a fresh white cheese from Manavi) near the national stadium.

My dining company at a $1.50 lunch restaurant in the old city.

Then spent an hour and numerous cell calls tracking down a dude named "Colorado" from the coastal province of Esmeralda who specializes in Corviche. A deep fried plantain masa tube filled with fresh albacore tuna and dressed with a cole slaw and lots of hot sauce. Finally tracked him down on Avenida Naciones Unidades in front of the Banco Pacifico building. He had been going up and down the office towers selling his food to the late night office workers. Luckily we called and he saved the two very last Corviches from the 250 he sold that day. The crowd around him wasn't happy with us.
Waiting for the chitlins to grill

Jumped into a cab and crossed the city to Barrio Floresta for their food stands in the park. Sampling the star of Quito street food - Tripa Miski - chitlins soaked in vinegar, seasoned and then set on fire! They were heaped onto the charcoal grills throwing up giant flames as the fat melted out. Served with an extra side of home made hotsauce, it was a smoky, salty, chewy, gamey and spicey delight.
Extra crispy please

Delicious with ice cold beers. We asked for our order extra cooked which gave a great crunch to the chew. Wading into the scrum to try the free samples and then extra toppings on everything.

Selfies in the parque Floresta

Also had an amazing deep fried crispy pastry, super thin, with a salty cheese on the inside and sugar on the outside. With some big beers bought from a corner store, it was some of the best al fresco dining ever.

Jenny in uniform and the beautiful Carmine Restaurant

One of the reasons for going to Quito was to bring rum and cigars for my buddy Noel who was going to share them with Carmine, the chef and owner of Carmine's, a very popular Italian restaurant. For some reason, Zacapa XO is hard to find in Quito so I brought a few bottles for his bar. The stuff was so popular, I think he drained the first bottle on the first night and this is at $25  a shot! So had a couple of amazing meals there along with some excellent wines.
Noel and I with Carmine

The second night we were there, we really wanted to relax and smoke some cigars so they moved the lounge furniture out onto the lawn with some propane heaters. They brought us food to snack on, some more great wine, and we sat out there for hours smoking cigars.
Me and the jungle helicopter pilot

Met some interesting people including an Argentinean who spent a lot of time in the Amazon flying helicopters and now running his own fleet. And shooting the shit with Carmine who cooked for many years in NYC, the Catskills and Montreal.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pollo Campero to Canada!


Ah, the good stuff.
I think everyone in Latin America knows how delicious Pollo Campero is (although a friend of mine calls it Pollo Con Pello). This unique Guatemalan/Salvadoran treat uses a special brining and flouring process and excellent and tasty, locally raised chicken to produce a terrific product. I think it was good enough to recently put KFC in El Salvador out of business.

My son has visited me here several times and loves the chicken. He once drove from Toronto to Florida to eat Pollo Campero (which has numerous franchises in the US). But the chicken doesn’t taste the same there, probably because the chickens here are less aggressively farmed and may be fresher. In fact, the grocery stores in El Salvador routinely sell locally raised chicken (that is smaller, yellower and not frozen) for $1.50 a lb while the giant, white and pre-frozen US chicken is sold at $1.00 a lb. I once bought three pieces of each chicken for grilling in a “taste-off” and was amazed that the local sample had an intense chicken flavour while the US import tasted watery and bland in comparison.

"Sharing the flavour with my friends, with my family, with the whole world" ... except for Canada

This is another reason why people travelling from the San Salvador airport to the US still purchase special large bags full of Pollo Campero at the airport even though they can get the fresh cooked version locally. And this is being done legally.

What would happen if you tried to bring the deliciously fried Pollo Campero into Canada? I did try on one occasion when my son asked for some chicken. I went to the San Salvador airport which is mostly run by Taca, the local carrier (recently bought out by the Colombian based Avianca and is being slowly and painfully debranded), and has a very busy Pollo Campero outlet with way too few tables upstairs. At lunch time, there is always a huge line up for chicken but, somehow, by the time the chicken is served, a table magically opens up or you can always ask to share a table. So I purchased 12 pieces of chicken, ate one in the restaurant (steaming hot and delicious), ate two more on the airplane (cooled down but still delicious), and declared the chicken to the customs official. Bam – or Squawk rather – off to a secondary customs check. I opened my bag and showed the 9 remaining pieces of chicken, sealed in a Ziploc bag, to the very polite officer. He said that I could not enter with the chicken. I mentioned that it was commercially prepared and fully cooked but he said no way. He did say that I could eat the chicken rather than surrendering it ... but I already had 3 pieces of chicken and was full!

So I had to tell my son that there was no fried chicken for him and he would have cried himself to sleep if he wasn’t 24 years old at the time.

The Chinese get to eat it too.
Now what happens if you don’t declare your friend chicken? Consider the sad case of Mario Castillo. He was in El Salvador visiting his family and before his flight, he was in the shower when his mother secreted 15 pieces of fried chicken with a stated approximate value of $18.00. The chicken was discovered by the crack Canadian Border Services Agency Officer on the night of 25 January 2012.
The attempted illegal importation of fried chicken was considered by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations as a contravention of section 40 of the Health of Animals Regulations and classified as a “serious violation” which resulted in an $800 fine for Mario.

Mario had the choice of paying $400 within 15 days but he stuck to his guns and bad legal advice and decided to have his day in court. On 2 November 2012, he went before the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal whose stellar adjudicators decided to throw out the case on a technical issue of Mario not being given “a reasonable opportunity to justify the importation of a meat product found [in] their bags.”

So justice for Mario and perhaps his mother could stop feeling so guilty about using her son as a fried chicken mule.

But wait a minute, slow day in the Canada Border Services Agency legal department and they decided to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal - the second highest court in Canada! I better not find out that there is outside counsel involved who are charging the Canadian Government (and taxpayers) a huge hourly rate for this!

 The Federal Court of Appeal held the hearing in Toronto on 30 September 2013 and delivered their decision on 20 November 2013. See http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/site/fca-caf/decisions/en/item/64703/index.do .  In a nutshell, Justices Sharlow, Mainville and Near decided that the appeal should be allowed, that this was an absolute liability violation and it was immaterial that his mother had packed the chicken without his knowledge (akin to the dog ate my homework defense) and that the tribunal erred in law in deciding that Mario should have been provided with a reasonable opportunity to justify his importation of fried chicken. What does that mean? Back to the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal. Thankfully, no costs were ordered.

From infraction (sorry, “serious infraction”) to a federal appeal in less than two years - not bad Canadian legal system! Now let’s start a crowd funding drive to raise money to take this to the Supreme Court of Canada. IF YOU LOVE FRIED CHICKEN, DO NOT LET US DOWN.

Hmm, never mind. This stupid blog is enough work as it is.

Elliot about to attack a heaping plate of Pollo Campero.
But my son living in Canada does love the chicken. So how do you get the fried chicken past the Canada Border Services Agency? What permits or certificates could you obtain to import fried chicken? Or to paraphrase the appeals court decision, how do you satisfy a CBSA Officer, on reasonable grounds, that the chicken was processed in such a way that would prevent disease from coming into Canada?

So I went onto the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada government website and hunted around. Obviously, not easy to find guidance on this and the regs were no help so I decided to send them a message:

I am a Canadian lawyer living in El Salvador. My son has visited me on several occasions and loves a local fried chicken brand called Pollo Campero. They are very large with several hundred locations in Latin America, the US and internationally in Spain and China. It is legal for travellers to bring the cooked chicken from El Salvador to the United States and this frequently occurs with a restaurant in the San Salvador international airport providing special packaging for carrying on the chicken. But it appears that it is illegal to bring the chicken to Canada and I experienced it when I flew back one time and declared it - I was told that I could eat the chicken on the spot but would have to surrender the remaining chicken for disposal. A recent Federal Court of Canada decision http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/site/fca-caf/decisions/en/item/64703/index.do adjudicated on the case of an individual who was apprehended entering Canada with fried chicken. They refer to certain exemptions at Part IV of the Health of Animals Regulations but these provisions are quite vague. The case mentions "CBSA Officer was not satisfied on reasonable grounds that the chicken was processed in such a way that would prevent disease from coming into Canada." How can one satisfy a CBSA Officer that commercially prepared fried chicken was processed to prevent disease from coming into Canada?

I also wrote to Pollo Campero on FB: 

Sabes que esta legal a traer Pollo Campero a EEUU pero esta illegal a importar a Canada. Porque y puedes hacer algo? Mira este caso en el segundo mas importante tribunal en Canada

I will follow up when I hear back ... if I hear back.

Wow, all this talk of fried chicken is making me hungry. Guess what I am going to have for dinner!  And anyone looking for a great franchising opportunity in Canada ... this is it!