This week on The Back Burner we are talking about eating local. It’s an important topic with lots of room for interpretation and misinterpretation. In fact, in the foodie world eating local is a culinary catch phrase that has become rather politicized. I didn’t feel like stepping into any controversy this week. I just got back from vacation and I still feel rather mellow. So I decided to side-step the politics and concentrate on the more personal aspects of eating (and drinking) local.
It wasn’t hard for me to choose this path because during my trip to Costa Rica I had a truly “local” experience I wanted to share with you.
This story starts with beer. A brand of Costa Rican beer called Imperial. You see I have a vacation rule. I always drink what the locals drink. And while I am enjoying a cold cerveza I might as well have a peek at the bar food too. Because when I travel I always seek out what I consider to be local fare. Simple food honestly prepared. In Costa Rica this means whole fried fish, served outside on the weathered boards of a rustic table, accompanied by beer and hot sauce. Talk about tid bits and noshy things!
Imagine an open air bar with ocean breezes and shanty shade to protect you from the heat and sun. The sound of something Latin and soulful crackling through speakers that have spent too much time in the salty air. The beat, somewhere between Soca and Salsa, competes with the crash of the waves.
These are the kinds of places I seek out when I travel.
I found one such place in Quepos, Costa Rica. It’s called Bahia Azul. It’s a simple place with rusty fixtures, broken chairs and happy people. It’s not the kind of bar where you’d find many tourists. It’s a bit off the beaten path. From the outside it may even seem a bit intimidating. Maybe not “clean” in the way Americans are used to, but it is authentic, and perfectly delicious.
It’s the kind of place locals stop in to get a bite to eat and a quick beer or 4 on their way to or from the day’s activities. I could easily see that the regulars knew just who to expect to see sitting at the bar. Holas and hugs were aplenty! There aren’t any menus. All the patrons know what is served. After all this is Quepos. A fishing town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The people here have earned their living from the sea long before the tourists came to town. One after the other, I watched the people amble up to the bar sit down, smile and simply say pescado. That means fish.
When you say pescado at a place like Bahia Azul, you get whole fried fish. Served with scorching hot fried plantains. The local version of a salad and whatever vegetable the cook has handy. Naturally when we took our table we simply said pescado, por favor. Oh, and dos cervezas!
What we got was the perfect marriage of delicious food and cold beer– served with no pretense, perfectly reflecting the relaxed atmosphere. It was a great culinary moment for me. We spent the whole afternoon there. Drinking beer, playing backgammon, watching the water taxi ferry folks back and forth across the bahia azul that surrounded us and gave this simple shack its name.
Here’s a quick video! GREG
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.