Monday, March 05, 2012

Bonaire: It Was About the Food

I did not expect fabulous food during this past week's trip to Bonaire. I expected to find old favorites, local foods I'd grown up eating. On our very last day in Bonaire, I finally found a tray of home made pastechis on the check-out counter at a Chinese store. Pastechis are empanada-like turnovers filled with ground meat or salted fish. On occasion, my brother and I still make dozens of them and wax nostalgic.
I was also on the lookout for nasi goreng and bami, two Indonesian dishes that my mother served often after taking a cooking class from a Dutch woman who lived in Indonesia before WWII. There was a great cross-over of Indonesian food to the Dutch Caribbean islands. We also grew up eating chicken or beef skewered on sticks and covered with peanut sauce and chicken smothered in coconut. And we loved the deep fried Dutch croquettes served with a good sharp mustard.
Each day we were in Bonaire, Beth and I found another, and another, of these dishes. In downtown Kralendijk, we wandered into a small local take-out place and ate roti, that large tortilla rolled and filled with curried chicken, potatoes and green beans.
Later, we discovered a little shop near our hotel that advertised Surinam Java food. For three days running, I ordered greedily from their menu.
I brought bags filled with styrofoam containers of fresh warm food to our hotel room. Beth and I filled our plates and sat at the small table on our balcony which was covered with our growing collection of coral found on the beaches. The plates of food barely fit. We ate lompias, yuka, batter fried plantains smothered in chunky peanut sauce, more roti with curried potatoes and green beans, plus a terrific spicy chopped chicken liver condiment. Beth and I were pretty much in heaven. And very full.
I tried really hard to find out all the ingredients for the chopped chicken liver. It was that good. The cook from Surinam said the seasoning was 'adji.' I went looking for it without luck. I asked again and she brought out a big plastic bag of MSG. That was 'adji'? Indeed it was. When I got back to Houston, I Googled 'adji' and found that it is a derivation of a Japanese word for MSG. They use it by the pound in Bonaire. I still think there is another seasoning in that condiment that my taste buds can't name.
We also discovered At Sea, where all four of us savored an almost perfect meal last Thursday evening. We stopped the day before to make a reservation at this relatively new place on the waterfront. At Sea has a tent covered patio with teak tables and an elegant bar lit with what looked to be Turkish chandeliers.
The entire At Sea experience was a treat. The wait staff looked as if they'd just come from Holland on a lark, for as temporary adventure. Mostly tall, blond and more than a bit glamorous.
The Thursday specials were the finest cuts of mahi mahi, wahoo and tuna. I leaned toward the tuna, seared and crusty on the outside and pinkish red on the inside. Accessorized with papaya salsa, sweet potato gratin, sweet and sour cucumbers, banana chips and a swirl of salsa verde. The tuna was the best I have ever, ever eaten.
The rest of our table ordered mahi mahi and wahoo and declared that their dishes were also the best they'd ever eaten. We got a bit giddy as we ate. The dessert menu offered a most interesting selection of artisan cheeses. The descriptions alone seduced us and we ordered four cheeses. When they were delivered to our table on a teak platter, we were asked to eat from left to right because if we ate the last first, we'd never taste the delicacy of the first. We ate as instructed.
A fine port was suggested as accompaniment to our cheeses. Oh, yes, we ordered port too.
Our third cheese was Emmentaler, described as a "Swiss light gold, medium hard cheese with characteristic wholes inside." I couldn't resist eating Swiss cheese with "characteristic wholes."
We ended our repast with Roche Baron. Its ashy crust just put me over the edge. More giddiness.
There were other interesting meals in Bonaire, one that included a sublime pumpkin, apple and fresh ginger soup and a platter of smoked marlin. Then there was the mango sorbet and pina colada and passion fruit smoothies. What's not to like about food?
Except that I flew to Bonaire and the salty Caribbean water to clear my skin. I have 'food sensitivities' that manifest themselves on my throat and arms. I no longer want to treat with cortisone creams and steriod shots. That salt water cure was doing a really good job until Thursday, when I ate artisan cheeses and began a three day orgy of Surinam Java dishes loaded with wheat and corn meal.
Now I'm back in Houston with excessively dry, red burning skin that has, once again, been diagnosed as eczema. Eczema found me in Aruba when I was ten years old and comes and goes, seemingly random, but not. Was it wheat and cheese in the 1950s?
I'm not entirely sorry I ate roti and loempia and three pastachis or rich Roche Baron cheese. It was all so good, so satisfying.
Truth be known though, the salt water cure was working when I was eating organic apples and cabbage and kale which I brought in my suitcase from Houston's Whole Foods.
There is a tough lesson here. Guess I'll be sticking with fresh veggies and fish and fruit for the rest of my life. If I know what's good for me. That's the hope.

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