Cooking and eating through a new culture

My Trouble With Paradise

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I have been staring at this page for days.

Seriously. I wish I was too busy with amazing adventures to write it all down. Living here is in and of its self an adventure, but I have been woefully lazy. No, that’s not true either. Maybe just tired. It might be perceived as malaise but I am quite happy and trust me, I know all too well what depression feels like. I still cook, just not with as much verve as usual. I’ve missed two farmer’s markets due to a trip to the ocean and Easter (aka. Semana Santa here) and I am still trying to get the knack of this new kitchen, so I have been off my game. Sure I have pumped out a vat of divine tomato sauce (I even splurged and bought mushrooms too), made the ubiquitous chicken rice, and even a spinach, goat cheese and cranberry salad with homemade djion and red wine dressing. Yet, I still haven’t found my groove…per se.

So I thought I would try something different. Since I have been gushing about all things I love here, maybe I’ll give you a peek at what gives me the yuk face.

Now when you peruse the markets you may see black berries. My only word of caution is that do not expect the luscious flavor like you would get stateside. These suckers are bitter. Boiled down with some sugar, they make a lovely jam or filling for crepes, but I wouldn’t eat them straight up. The same goes for the stone fruits they try to grow here. Just don’t. Coming from a place that would produce the most mouth-watering array of peaches, plums and cherries, whatever you will eat here will pale in comparison. I would liken it to trying to find a good tomato in the Northeast in the dead of winter; it looks like what it should be but tastes like wood pulp.

A word about yucca. Yucca is nothing without what you put on it. When boiled, it does have a similar taste to potatoes…but I wouldn’t just eat plain boiled spuds either. Yucca NEEDS something on it; butter, garlic, any sauce or flavoring. The best I have had was boiled and then fried in butter. Quite nice. So if you find yourself with a side of yucca make sure you dress it up a bit, otherwise it’s like taking a bite if couch stuffing.

Palm nuts, or Pejibaye. Pejibaye’s are not commonly eaten anywhere except in Costa Rica and I believe it is because they taste like ass. One of my first explorations into the local markets, I noticed vendors selling boiled pejibaye. I was curious and Rafa procured one for me to try. When he wasn’t looking, I spit it out. It has the consistency and taste of wet cardboard. No amount of salt or additive would make this thing palatable. Another starch in the Costa Rican diet and at 200 calories a pop, I am glad to cross them off my list. There is a reason why parrots love eating these…because birds don’t have taste buds.

Next on the list is Pitaya, know in English as dragon fruit. This is actually a beautiful fruit to see, with its lovely intense pink skin tipped in spring green and the shock of white seeded flesh when cut open but all the excitement ends there. It is absolutely tasteless. Cucumbers have a more intense flavor.

Heart of palm, or palmito (not to be confused with the cheese, which is marvelous) is another oddity for me in the Costa Rican diet. My first introduction to this was when Rafa made me dinner back in the states. His mom would periodically send care packages of food, including cans of palmito. I remember crinkling up my nose when I opened it, but Rafa was the chef and I knew I was in good hands. When dinner was served, my first taste of palmito solidly confirmed my initial whiff. It was horrid. Now, I was madly in love and I would have eaten broken glass for Rafa, so I choked down as much as I could and deftly moved the rest around my plate. He zoned in on my discomfort and in true Rafa fashion, completely admitted he never liked palmito, scooped the rest off my plate, poured me more wine and said “Let’s just have chocolate cake.”

And people still wonder why I moved here.


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