Food. My favourite subject. The only thing that beats a nice meal, is a nice foreign meal where you really have no idea what to expect (or what you’ve just ordered). And the only thing that beats a foreign meal is when it’s so delicious, you consider immigration. My favourite menu surprise was in Madrid, 2009 – crunchy churros, dusted with angelic white icing sugar and filled with caramel sweeter than a puppy wagging its tail.
In Central America, however, there aren’t a lot of surprises. You can bet a puppy’s tail that there will be rice and beans on the plate. But rice and beans for hungry hearts on a budget really hits the spot.
Let’s start with youth hostel breakfasts. Most of the time it’s included in the pocket-friendly $20 por dos personas per night price. In Panama City we realised there are about 5 taste combinations hidden in strawberry jam, peanutbutter, bananas and white bread. These are, in no particular order – jam and banana on bread, jam and peanutbutter on bread, peanutbutter on bread (the same goes for jam), banana and peanutbutter on bread and if you buy a 20c sachet of oats, peanutbutter and oats in a cup.
To our delighted surprise, the most popular hostel breakfast served in Bocas del Toro (Panama) is pancakes and syrup. Only one taste combination there, but it sure is nice.
Where Panamanian hostels serve bananas for brekkie, their Costa Rican counterparts serve pineapples. With pancakes and syrup. Hello sugar!
So after one month of traveling (and a lot of bananas) – the best breakfast award goes to Casa Tranquilo in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Thick slices of freshly baked banana bread, served with scrambled eggs, some fruit and the best hostel coffee in Central America. Yes.
Another breakfast favourite (mine and the Costa Ricans) is gallo pinto (loosely translated as ‘spotted rooster’). Rice with black beans, some onion and cilantro (if you’re lucky), served with fried eggs or chicken/beef in a tomato sauce, washed down with some exotic fruit juice. I got obsessed with it for a week, but now I’m dying for a peanutbutter toastie.
Let’s do lunch
Okay, I’m not really going into lunch, because we never have it. We usually have (wait for it…) bananas and beer as a midday snack. And sometimes empanadas (if we feel a bit reckless with the money in our pocket).
Winner winner chicken dinner
Besides the glorious ceviche, the fish market in Panama City also serves deep-fried fish with rice (surprise!), patacones (plantane fritters) and salad. All the meals in Central America are served with coleslaw or lettuce, which is really the only time we get to eat something green. They aren’t big on veggies, and a small head of broccoli at the supermarket costs around $4. My biggest concern at the moment is not global warming, but sufficient fibre intake. ‘Nuff said.
Most of the time we would order a casado (set meal) at a local eatery for dinner. We are usually beyond starving by then, so rice and beans are a welcome sight for hungry eyes. A casado consists of a meat (pulled beef or steak / pulled chicken or pieces / fish), rice and beans (served separately), plantanes and a precious green salad. It usually costs anything between $3 -7, and if you share it, you can afford to buy more beer. It’s all about having the right priorities.
But this is definitely not the last time I’m going to ramble on about food – I still have a low-budget dinner in Costa Rica story to tell, a variation on rice story to tell, stale bread and pineapple jam story to tell and a lobster story to tell. Stay tuned.
In the meanwhile, here’s some over-exposed food snaps. I always feel silly taking pictures of food in public, so don’t expect a lot of these.