I am a foodie and a somewhat adventurous one at that. However, as we pulled into the village of Palenque, Colombia last week, I was a little skeptical about whether or not I would be able to eat the lunch that was included with our excursion. I remember commenting to the guys on the way to the village, “this food had better be good, since we’re driving two hours to get it.”
When we pulled in, the village was absolutely electric. The energy was palpable. Or maybe it was the music blasting from what had to be 10,000 watt speakers in the local dance hall. I can only imagine what goes on in there at night! Probably a whole lot of merengue, salsa, batchata, and sweat. We were greeted with a bottle of the local beer and immediately escorted to lunch. The place was more of a shanty than a real restaurant. The sight of humongous grey pigs, chickens, goats, donkeys, and dogs everywhere certainly added to my skepticism.
On the way in, I stopped to marvel at the sight of two little girls who were literally playing with rocks. I would have gladly paid $1000 if someone had walked by selling dolls. I also wanted to buy them some shoes. Then I realized that very few of the local kids were wearing shoes. I imagine that shoe money for kids is not even a consideration since they grow out of them so fast. Don’t get me wrong, I was not feeling pity. The little dusty foot children playing with rocks were not pitiful. They were absolutely beautiful but not the kind of beautiful you see on TV or in magazines. They were the kind of beautiful that you can only see with your heart. Most importantly they were as happy as any kids I had ever seen. They were truly beautiful (wipes tears).
As I sat down for lunch, I noticed a giant green leaf at each place setting at the table. I think, “how clever to use leaves as placemats.” NOPE. I would soon learn that they were not placemats. They were the plates.
Somebody’s Afro-Colombian aunty emerges from the kitchen with a giant pan of whole fishes (faces and all) and starts serving. She hits me with two medium size fish. They are covered in a yellowish-green sauce. “I am not in the mood for your curry or turmeric fish,” I thought to myself.
Aunty returns and starts dealing rice. Sidebar: I have had rice in many Caribbean, Latin, and Asian countries. The coconut rice in Colombia is amongst the best.
Aunty passes out a ladle of salad and then Corey, one of the guys on the trip, blesses the table. As I raise my hand to ask for a fork, I realize… if they don’t have plates, the chances of them having cutlery is slim to none.
One of the women seated at the next table passes around some hand sanitizer. I take my time de-boning (by hand) the first bite. Here goes nothing…
Did I miss a bone and choke to death?
No, I am in heaven, FOOD HEAVEN… and I LOVE IT.
I could hardly wait to get the next bite into my mouth. I couldn’t help but think, “I am so glad she gave me two medium instead of one large fish. More fish for me.”
To this day, I couldn’t tell you what exactly I ate that afternoon. It was neither a curry or a turmeric-based sauce. I asked several times but they just wouldn’t give up the recipe.
The vote was pretty much unanimous. Everyone loved it. Imagine, if you will, 10 grown men sitting on the porch of this little shanty restaurant licking their fingers like kids eating frosting from a bowl.
It was easily one of the best meals I had all year (if the not the best). I can not wait to get back to Palenque, Colombia so I can have some more of my Afro-Colombian aunty’s fish with that mysterious yellow-green sauce.