Sunday, March 30, 2008

Costa Rica Part 3: A Food Moment

Although I am jumping ahead chronologically, I must record my last meal in Costa Rica because I promised two wonderful waiters that I would. I had one of those great “food moments”, when a meal becomes a means of communication across all barriers—language, cultural, gender and age.

On Friday evening, my family and I sat on the open-air balcony at Paso Real in Liberia (it was so good the first time, I had to go back!) In the plaza central a local karate club was holding a meet and proud parents filmed every move from the church steps, like spectators on the bleachers.

For a final taste of the tropics, I ordered jugo de cas again and everyone loved it. My next selection was jugo de guanabana. Over the past week, I had begun to think guanabana was another name for “ugly fruit,” a green spiky thing with pure white insides that I adored as a child visiting Jamaica. One sip, and the creamy juice transported me instantly! (In other regions around the equator, this fruit is also called sour sop).

Before I’d even looked at the main courses, I noticed a juice I did not recognize, called chan. The two headwaiters happily fielded my mountain of questions and darted to the kitchen to bring us a taste. The juice was a clear with small black somethings at the bottom of the sifter shaped glass. Jugo de Chan, the waiter told me, does not come from a fruit, but rather its seeds. The hard semillas de chan (seeds) also called chía, blossom into tapioca-like jellies in cold water. It is like a Central American version of Asia's Bubble Tea. In the sweetened water, the seeds exuded a slightly minty taste producing a drink that was almost medicinal. The waiter confirmed my suspicion: chan is often used to quell an upset stomach or reduce a raging fever!

Those lovely waiters didn’t stop there; instead they fed my curiosity, producing the little black seeds and a cup of water so we could see the process in action. While we watched the seeds grow, another glass appeared on the table. The lightly golden liquid clung to my straw like maple syrup. “Es linaza,” one waiter said, “disuelto en el agua con miel.” I didn’t understand until he produced the small sesame shaped seeds that gave the drink its warm, earthy flavor-- Flaxseeds! In the States this seed is added to energy smoothies or baked into whole-grain bread but in Costa Rica it is ground and dissolved into this honey flavored drink. Like chan, bebida de linaza is also used for digestive health. What intriguing and refreshing appetizers!

The night was flawless, I told the two waiters about this blog and they asked for the address. They brought us little baggies to take the semillas de chan y linaza home and soon our meals of freshly caught seafood arrived—a whole pargo frito (fried snapper), camarones a la plancha (grilled shrimp), filet de dorado (fillet of mahi mahi) and meat ravioli for my 14 year old brother.

It was the prefect send off. Nothing could have better encapsulated the generosity and kindness that I encountered during my short stay in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Gracias Costa Rica, mi viaje fue maravillosa, voy a regresar rápidamente! Amigos, gracias , y que les guste este blog!