Costa Rica

A Culture Within A Culture

In a post from last week I mentioned a story I had written for a travel writing contest. And as promised, here it is:

The rich aroma of food being cooked finally convinces me that a delicious meal awaits. Although my body is ravenous with hunger, I am content just sitting here, enjoying the breeze wafting through the palm trees outside, listening to the quiet crashing of waves breaking off in the distance.

Away from the throngs of sun bleached tourists who flock to the town’s posh and overpriced eateries, Miss Dolly’s offers visitors an authentic dining experience here in Puerto Viejo. Inside the walls are bare, the room almost empty expect for the four simply carved wooden tables that grace it, yet the atmosphere exudes a sense of home. There are no menus, yet none are needed. One doesn’t come to Miss Dolly’s for choices, but to sample a taste of Costa Rica’s Afro-Caribbean culture.

As the waiter sets my plate of steaming food in front of me, I turn more closely in my seat to surreptitiously study his face, black as the night sky. With his darkened skin and dreadlocks that have been pulled back into a ponytail, save for a few that have escaped and hang loosely over his eyes, he looks nothing like the Costa Rican men I have been accustomed to seeing back in San Jose.

Prior to my fork laying assault to my meal, I pause a moment to examine the contents of my plate, which resembles an artist’s palate. I had ordered a casado, which means marriage in Spanish and is indeed a marriage of simple yet hearty foods. As I bite into a piece of grilled fish covered in a rich and creamy coconut sauce, the latter a staple in Caribbean cooking, I am reminded of the fact that I am eating a meal derived from two distinct yet connected cultures, Costa Rican and the West Indian. The rice and beans are quickly devoured along with the carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad. Soon, all that remains are the patacones, the fried, yellowy golden hue on my palate.

I had been told by friends that patacones are the best part of traveling to the Caribbean coast. Even given the impressive nature of Salsa Brava, the country’s biggest and most powerful wave, and the stunning beauty of the beaches at Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, nothing compares to eating a twice fried plantain. Although I burn my mouth with my first bite, it is a burn worth enduring, for even through the numbness I feel on my tongue, I still enjoy their decadent taste.

Before leaving to walk back along the darkened road to my cabina, the curtain from the back of the room rustles and out steps a woman I assume to be Miss Dolly herself. Wanting to say something but not having the words to say all that I wished to, I simply utter “gracias,” to which she responds with a smile as rich as the meal I had just eaten.

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