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Beef Rib Soup with Rice

By Laura Isabel (Laurisa) Sastoque Pabón | OMC 2024

Traditional beef soup. Salmon Negro from Getty Images.

There are some foods you are not meant to eat on your own. Sometimes this has to do with quantity. Other times dishes are too greasy or too heavy, and must be accompanied by sides, or a plurality of stomachs. As Marta stirred her soup around with her wooden spoon, she heard a steady vibration coming from her phone. It was her friend, who said ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t come over for lunch. I really need to finish this essay. Enjoy your meal though!’ She was the last of four friends she’d texted. From within her stomach, she felt the granular pain of shame. For a moment, Marta wished she could move through this world as a material other than hungry flesh.

Looking at the four beef ribs, revolving around each other in a magnetic dance, Marta wondered what she would do with all this food. She spent the morning at the local butcher, where things were organic and overpriced, and where all she wanted to get was beef ribs. She thought it would be easier. But then the owner hit her with a ‘do you mean chuck ribs, back ribs, flank? Do you want them juicy, do you want them sliced, do you want them wrapped in plastic or in parchment?’ These are questions she never had to answer. Back home, her mom knew the butcher Mateo by name, and every Sunday he had a bag of bloody meat ready for her to pick up. Her mom would cook the soup by lunch, and serve it with a side of rice topped with cilantro. Marta figured that she wouldn’t have the patience to cook any rice, so she focused on the soup. Chuck ribs, four potatoes, some plantain, and enough cumin to add a smoky scent to her breath for the rest of the week.

The urge had possessed her when she walked into her kitchen one night, after a long day of writing at the library, and found her roommate sitting on the kitchen counter. The smell of tomatoes and fresh-baked pastries lingered in the air, and he was handing out plates to four of his friends, all sitting in plastic chairs, their legs grazing against each other. Marta lived in a house with five burnt-out students who often ate in their rooms, so this was a rather rare scene. The roommate smiled at Marta and offered her a piece of garlic bread, which she enviously accepted, before microwaving some frozen lasagna.

As she let the soup cook, oils rose to the surface, forming an iridescent film above the water. The ribs are meant to remain, in this boiling trance, for as long as an implicit set of house chores may take. You boil the ribs while you mop the house, while you hand wash your underwear. You clean the house and slowly make way for the scents of meat and cumin to inundate the place. You leave sprays and window cleaners to the side so as to not create a cacophonous encounter between the chemicals and all the vapours. And once you have made a few rounds around the house, mopped beneath your siblings’ shoes, checked for dust under statuettes and in between the folds of a coat rack, you come back and the meat is a brown-grey, sluggishly sliding down its backbone. The potato peels have unadhered from their fruits and now float around the soup like falling leaves.

There were no chores for Marta to complete, as there was a house cleaner who came in every week. From the kitchen, Marta could hear one of her roommates carrying his laughter down the echoey halls. Otherwise, she sat alone with the gaping pot of soup. She caught a tender piece in between her fork and her knife, and as she disentangled its nerves and ligaments, she felt her feet tingle, the way they tingle when you’ve been sitting in one position for far too long.

She tried to move them around, to wake them up, but then Marta found that, in fact, she could not move her feet at all. She bent her spine to look under the table, and found her shoes buried beneath a growing pile of rice. The white grains fell and fell from what had once been her skin, blood, and bones. The boots of her jeans dangled from her seat like two kids on a swing.

While her neck remained solid, Marta looked around the room to ensure no roommates were around, and quickly dumped her fingers into the scorching water. She thrust the biggest of the potatoes into her mouth, and allowed that starchy feel to coat her cheeks one last time. Then she tried to reach for her phone, but it was too late. Soon all volume of her was ground up into this half-raw, half-cooked good.

Later, when one of her roommates came down to check on his laundry, he saw a pile of clothes on the seat, swimming among a big pile of rice. He wondered when the cleaner would come next. Then, he grabbed the no-longer-steaming soup from the table, put it in his largest Tupperware, and stored it in the section of the fridge that was unspokenly his, and no one else could touch.

Laura Isabel (Laurisa) Sastoque Pabón is an MPhil student in Digital Humanities at the University of Cambridge. She was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and lived in the United States during her undergraduate studies. Her research focuses on the spatial history of the Colombian diaspora in the United States and Western Europe, especially in relation to stigmatisation from drug trafficking. Lately, she has also been developing an interest in the study of urban Latin music from a computational perspective. Laurisa is also a creative writer, and she often writes fiction pieces that explore her own experiences of migration, and the different human connections she has made along the way.


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