Thursday, April 18, 2013

Never Have Fish in a Cat Place

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Transcribed from notes made in San Juan, April 17, 2013

Following a successful “tissue run” to Super T in San Juan, I was hungry and decided to grab some lunch at Comedor Elenita before I head back to San Pedro. A comedor, which means “dining room” in Spanish, is about as native as you can get before hitting street food. Comedors are set up family style with long tables and the ubiquitous plastic chairs that are seen almost everywhere in Guatemala. There are usually only four or five items on offer, which are posted on the wall, at near rock bottom prices.

I Recommend the Caldo

Today, there are five items on the menu, ranging from fish to chicken to caldo de res (beef broth). This is not my first time at Elenita’s, although it is my first time there on this trip, and I order the caldo. The broth is mildly spicy and today contains carrot, zucchini, a small piece of corn on the cob and a piece of meat. On the side of the plate is rice and some avocado. I take the meat out of the bowl, cut it into bite size portions and return it to the bowl along with the rice. Of course, the meal wouldn’t be complete without tortillas and a basketful arrives at the table steaming hot. A dog has just wandered in and, with the entire restaurant at his disposal, he has decided to park himself next to me. I don’t want to encourage him by giving him any food, but he isn’t begging for any either and is rather well behaved. As I eat, I see the pollo rostizado turning in the oven. That looks good, too. For this very filling meal, I pay $3.86, which includes a bottle of agua mineral and the propina (tip).

Gallo – The Right Choice

I had put everything I needed for the day into the burlap shoulder bag I got on Monday in Panajachel. The similar bag that I left at home in Florida is emblazoned with “Café de Guatemala,” so I thought I should get something different. The only other choices were a bag with a picture on it of Che Guevara or this bag with the Gallo beer logo. I thought the Gallo bag might be the better choice in the long run.

I think it was. As I was walking along the road into San Juan this morning, I encountered a road crew. One of the crew members saw the bag, shouted out “Gallo” and gave a thumbs up, which got some of the other men shouting, too, and them giving a thumbs up as well. (I was accorded the same greeting on the way home.)

San Pedro, April 18, 2013 

Early Tuesday morning, Solina, the landlady, went into Guatemala City for a doctor’s appointment. A trip into the City isn’t something to be taken lightly and she planned to take advantage of it by staying over in Antigua for a few nights. The tenants in the front house were also gone to Honduras for a few days, so for a few hours I had the entire place to myself, which was nice, until Ventura, Rosenda and Elena, their daughter, moved into Solina’s apartment while she’s away to take care of her animals. That was a pleasure I took a pass on.

Haute Cuisine at Restauranté Elena

For dinner that evening, I went to Restauranté Elena, here in San Pedro near the “vortex,” which is what they call the intersection near the dock where the boats depart for Panajachel. Solina and I had had breakfast there last week and enjoyed it, so I thought I would try it for dinner.

But I had forgotten about the resident cat that bothered us at breakfast. Cat. Fish. Not a good combination for peaceful dining. The cat would jump up on the table; I would put her down; repeat cycle.

The other mistake I made was in not inquiring more about the fish before I ordered it. It was fried – okay, maybe not the healthiest choice – and I made the norteamericano assumption that it would be an easy-to-eat filet of “something.” So I was surprised when I was presented with a whole fish that had indeed been fried with tail and all and eyes staring back at me with an agonized expression that had come from its final swim in hot oil.

Now I’m not very good at picking the bones out of fish under the best of circumstances, but was even more handicapped by the dim lighting, which is the norm for most places here, and fending off the cat. The cat played me and In the end she won out. I had had enough of trying to not choke on the bones and chasing the cat away. She jumped right up on the table and started to eat what was left on the plate. Lesson learned: Never have fish in a cat place.

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