Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues! If you haven’t been following my blog, you are in the middle of my Costa Rican travel series where I recount all of the wild and woolly adventures I find myself in throughout the country (Day 1 and Day 2). Day 3, today’s post, takes me to a land of oxcarts, hidden volcanos, and hot springs. Let’s start at the beginning.
The morning started off with a snag as we were locked in our condo complex that was preventing us from getting breakfast before meeting up with our group. Thankfully, my Spanish came in handy, and we were at Denny’s before you could say “Buenos dias!”. There really wasn’t anything of note at the American diner aside from the delicious pancakes. The real highlights came later in the day as we first traveled in the morning to Sarchi which is famous in Costa Rica for their handmade ox carts. They were a lot more popular and common before the advent of automobiles in the countryside, but now they are mostly used for decorative purposes or collecting. Before we went to the workshop, our group stopped at a local bakery in the town square that was opposite the largest ox cart in the world! Before seeing this behemoth, we perused all the different types of breads and pastries that were on sale. It seemed like they had a lot of different types of bread puddings with different flavors ranging from coconut (Janice’s choice) to pineapple. I, on the other hand, got a creme pastry that looked somewhat like a brazo de gitano (literally “gypsy’s arm”) dessert from Spain. It had everything I wanted for breakfast: soft pastry dough and plenty of sweet and light whipped filling. The only downside was the excessive dusting of powdered sugar on the outside that was delicious initially but in the end left me looking like Tony Montana at the end of Scarface. I saved it for later though since it was quite a good amount of sugar in a short period of time. We had a tour of the Taller Eloy de Sarchi, and some of the artwork was simply spectacular. The colors were so bright and vibrant it looked like the animals were going to jump out at us. Thankfully, it was just some fancy artwork, and we moved on toward our next destination in the form of the Arenal Volcano. Once more, we had another roadside stop for food along the way. This was one of many reasons why I loved our travel group! This time, it was at a local fruit stand that had some recognizable produce like pumpkins, plantains, and pineapples, but then there were more exotic samples of Costa Rica’s countryside such as purple sweet potatoes and yuca.
For example, a smaller cart of these odd red fruits that were a bit before the larger fruit shop we were occupying caught Janice’s eye. She said that they looked like the combination of an apple and a pear. One of the women in our group bought them, and lo and behold Janice was right. Our guide informed us that they are known as Malaysian apples. While their exterior appearance was bold and intriguing, their taste was the polar opposite. It tasted like a super bland pear that could only be “enhanced” with the salt in a small accompanying bag the fruit hawker supplied our fellow traveler. Another interesting entry was the green oranges that were in the same bin as yellow fruits that were completely beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I bought one of the fruits that was slightly smaller than a baseball, and I found out I had to crack it open in order to eat it. The exterior was the only normal thing about it. Opening it was an adventure as I cracked through the thin yellow exterior and was quickly fingering through a white, dry, spongy material. After moving beyond that, I was greeted with a grey, slimy seed pouch that was held in place with small white tendrils. I learned that the proper way to eat this fruit called a granadilla (“small pomegranate” in Spanish) was to slurp up the black seeds along with the amniotic sack that was holding them. The craziest thing were the edible and very crunch seeds. It was overall a good purchase because it was actually quite delicious beyond its bizarre appearance that I could liken to a sweet orange with a tangy lime zing aftertaste. We also bought some mangos for breakfast later on. Our visit to the Arenal Volcano was a bust because it was completely obscured by fog and drizzle, but lunch was wonderful. It was at a very unique restaurant called Restaurante Tobogán or “Slide Restaurant” in Spanish. Why would it have such a random name? Well, because this establishment literally had a giant water slide coming out of the top of it which led to a pool on the side that I’m sure would have been bumping if the weather was more agreeable. I got the steak fajitas which once again were a lot different from the Mexican variety since there were no sizzling tabletop grills or tortillas to be seen. The same juicy pieces of grilled steak and onions were there, but they were accompanied with a Costa Rican classic known as casado or “married/married man”. It consisted of white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and a mixed salad. The name is said to either have originated from customers asking to be served as married men and have the same food in the restaurant as they would at home, or a more plausible explanation would be that the beans and rice are forever linked in gastronomic matrimony. It was during this meal I was also introduced to salsa Lizano which I could liken to a sweet Worcestershire sauce with a hint of spice. It went great with the fajitas and beans and rice offering a salty/spicy contrast. I also enjoyed a cool, refreshing glass of guanábana or sour sop juice. I had tried it previously in south London in a Jamaican restaurant, and I loved it since it seemed like a sweet limeade of sorts. However, the Costa Rican variety wasn’t as sweet and a lot frothier. After the meal, we went to Baldi hot springs which was extremely relaxing along with us being able to fly down some water slides since we weren’t able to go down the one earlier in the day. We had dinner at Baldi’s buffet, and most of it I had already tried aside from the Costa Rican version of tamales. They were very similar to the Mexican version with the cornmeal base encasing seasoned chicken and pork, but the main difference was that they were wrapped in banana leaves and boiled instead of being baked in corn husks. It was a calming end to a hurried day as we bonded with our fellow travelers over dinner and subsequently rode our food comas all the way back to San Jose for our next adventure.