FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!
Food is such an important factor in our experience of a country. I wouldn’t say we are “foodies” per se, but we admittedly have high standards. A good or bad meal can make or break an experience for us. Food can also tell so much about a country’s culture. We both agree that we have had some of the best, and some of the worst meals of our life, on this trip.
We started off the trip in Guatemala. Our first few weeks, we stayed with a host family in the small lake town, San Pedro. We ate a lifetime’s worth of tortillas during those weeks! Breakfasts were usually Western food: toast, pancakes, yogurt, granola, fruit, coffee, tea etc. Although Guatemala grows coffee, most of the coffee beans are exported. Instead of using the fresh local beans, the people of Guatemala drink instant coffee. Devon got to experience first-hand the instant coffee every morning. Poor guy didn’t get his preference of tea, instead, because he wasn’t able to string together the Spanish to ask for it, at the time! Lunches were the biggest meal of the day and most of the time we had soup or pasta, with either fish or chicken or beef. For dinner, it was common to have eggs, beans, and cheese. The meals were basic, but healthy. Tortillas were served with every meal (and we couldn’t help ourselves!). When we were not eating at home, we checked out the local cafes and restaurants. Surprisingly, there is a huge Israeli influence in San Pedro. We found ourselves eating delicious shawarma and falafel, which was definitely unexpected. Sometimes though, it is best to stick with local cuisine; we had “nachos” at one cafe once which consisted of tortilla chips with cold pasta sauce….muy interesante!
Next up was Belize. We ate well in Belize, that’s for sure. One of our favourite meals was at a restaurant called “Maggie’s” on Caye Caulker. The flavours were incredible! Devon basically died and went to heaven over a bakery on the island. We were totally spoiled on a boat trip we took around the islands: we had fresh ceviche served to us daily, with fish and conch that was caught right off the boat!
From Belize, we travelled to Mexico. We both love Mexican food and tacos, and we certainly ate our fair share. Ever since our road trip to Baja California, we have learned to love the street food - wherever the most locals are sitting and eating, is where we gravitate towards (no matter if we understand the menu or not!). Certain parts of Mexico are obviously quite touristy though, and we had a funny experience that we still laugh about: we were at a touristy beach in Cozumel and one of the waiters brought us to a restaurant to show us the menu. Along the way he excitedly told us we could come see a lady who was making “traditional hand made tortillas” - a truly authentic experience! We both laughed and politely declined, as we had seen hundreds of women making tortillas by hand all day long in Guatemala. An “authentic” experience in a tourist hot spot seems like a bit of an oxymoron.
After Mexico, we flew to Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, we could not get enough of the fresh fruit. We drank fresh coconut water from coconuts on the beach (harvested by hand by Devon), and got our daily fruit fix from the local fruit truck parked on the side of the road. Watermelon, pineapple, mango…and many interestingly shaped fruits that we had never seen or heard of before - the fruit truck had them all! And they were all so fresh and juicy and delicious. We also found a good Thai restaurant in a small town called Dominical, and ate there a few times during our short stay - a nice change from the traditional "plato del dia" that you get everywhere.
From Costa Rica we travelled to Panama. Here the food was fairly Western, for the most part. Although, we did have some traditional Panamanian food in Boquette. One highlight in Panama was eating amazing ceviche at a restaurant next to the fish market, and cost only a few dollars per cup! We tried a few different types and they were all delicious. In Panama we also were introduced to a fruit called guanábana. It is green on the outside, and white and fleshy on the inside, with black seeds. It has a really interesting texture...it's quite hard to explain...but after that, we were hooked!
From Panama to Columbia, we took another boat cruise, and this time we were really lucky. Our tour guide was from Costa Rica and just happened to be extremely passionate about cooking. Every meal was thought out and prepared to perfection. We had a lobster feast the first night, and neither of us have ever seen lobster that huge before! You might think that cooking for a group of 20 people on an island with no electricity, minimal fresh water, and only the supplies you can bring on a small boat would make it challenging…but our guide succeeded and it was extremely impressive.
Once we hit Columbia, the deep fried food and queso-in-everything train began. We had our first (and definitely not the last) exposure to empanadas. It was hard to escape the street vendors selling deep fried food. Thankfully, there were also many street vendors selling fresh fruit too, which we enjoyed. By this time, we were about 3 months into our trip. We had not cooked much for ourselves, and started to miss the independence and autonomy. We sought out accommodation with a kitchen, and fuelled up on veggie-filled stir fries and pastas.
In Ecuador we had more of the same - across Central and South America we tried to stick to the "plato del dia" (plate of the day) for lunch. Basically this consists of a soup starter, rice, chicken or fish, and "salad" (iceberg lettuce with a few tomatoes if you're lucky). Lunch usually comes with a fruit drink as well. We found this to be the best, most economical, and most consistent meal across our travels. One highlight was in the town of Santa Cruz of the Galapagos Islands: a huge bowl consisting of a corn/maize dumpling, meat, vegetables, who knows what else...all we know is that we wanted more!
So far, the food in Chile has not "wowed" us. Devon did have one delicious seafood soup in Chiloe though!
Mostly throughout Chile there is lots of fried food, high-sugar breakfasts with undercooked eggs, and to top it all off, it’s really expensive. We are tired of empanadas, and missing some variety at the moment. In Calgary, we will have our pick of Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, and Japanese all within arms reach! We have also been camping a lot lately and we decided to forgo a camping stove to save on space and weight, so it’s been a lot of salami sandwiches and peanut butter. One thing that has been amazing though, is all the fresh fruit. We have been eating a ton of juicy plums and peaches, because it is summer time here. And wouldn’t you know, we seem to find more delicious falafel in each place we visit - who would’ve guessed!
Drink wise, unfortunately the beer has been pretty bad throughout Latin America. We’ve tried a few breweries…but they just haven’t been up to the craft beer standards we have in Canada. Sad to say, but we haven’t tried any Chilean wine so far. Nor pisco, nor the infamous “earthquake” drink. We are excited to have a delicious steak dinner and pair it with some fine wine in Argentina!
We are mostly tea drinkers, and a good cup of tea has been hard to come by. We have enjoyed the coffee though, probably a little too much. The best coffee we had was across Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and Columbia. The coffee scene in Chile is interesting…it costs $3-6 CAD for hot water and Nescafe. What a luxury!? We have been drinking about a cup a day, so we will see how our dependence fairs when we get back to a Canada.
Another interesting beverage experience is drinking stream water while hiking throughout Chile. Sure, in Canada you might consider it at the top of a glacier...but usually we bring water purification tablets to be on the safe side. Those don’t exist here. So we have done as the locals have done, and have drank the stream water...and so far so good! We haven’t been sick yet. Hopefully we won't be coming back to Canada with a nasty parasite or two...
Our favourite drinks so far have been:
1) freshly squeezed orange juice from a stand in San Pedro, Guatemala (for $0.50!), and 2) mint lemonade with ginger which seems to be quite popular across Latin America.
Usually we are too hungry to take any photos, so we apologize for the lack of photo evidence. Hope you enjoyed this brief journey into the food and drinks that we have loved and loathed so far!
We leave you with some travel hacks for eating and drinking well, while abroad:
Seek out the vegetarian or vegan restaurants. In our experience, the quality of food is much better.
Eat what the locals eat.
Eat where the locals eat.
Splurge at lunch. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Latin America, and usually very inexpensive for a lot of food!
You can't go wrong with "plato del dia" (plate of the day).
Shop at the local markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, and don't be scared to barter!