When we rounded Cabo Santa Elena, the last major point in Costa Rica, we were suddenly traveling alone. Ahead lay Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries in which, in our ignorance, we were not certain Americans would find welcome. When we turned in San Juan del Sur, a beach resort town just west of Lake Nicaragua, we were mighty surprised so find a fairly substantial number of Americans with homes there!
Nicaragua is the home of Flor de Caña Rum. The Two Captains’ cocktail of choice at Happy Hour is the traditional nautical blend of rum and water. Rum and water does best with a certain mellow kind of rum such as our native Cruzan rum from the Virgin Islands or Venezuela’s Cacique. We had our first taste of Flor de Caña Rum in Golfito, where we were sufficiently inspired to buy a case of it at the Duty Free Zone. As we arrived in Nicaragua we were ready to restock. As best we could tell, there are no competing brands of rum in Nicaragua, but you can buy Flor de Caña is at least five different years – 2, 4, 5, 7 and 12 year old! In San Juan del Sur, the best deal was to wait for the weekly delivery truck and buy straight off it.
There were a number of simple restaurants in San Juan del Sur, but the most memorable meal was the one we caught on the run our last night in port. The Port Captain had recommended it, so we nipped in and got one order of Shrimp Diablo, which we had to carry out with us in order to catch the last harbor launch to the boat. When we finally cracked open the carton and divvied up the goods, with plenty of its sweet and hot sauce, we were very sorry we had already checked out! It was not the last shrimp diablo we have eaten, but it was by far the best.
From San Juan del Sur we sailed along the coast and across the mouth of the Gulf of Fonseca to Barillas Marina in El Salvador. Barillas is an outpost of luxury in a very provincial milieu. Surrounded by burning cane fields (see the Update for explanations), Barillas is a compound for boaters tucked way up in a mangrove estuary. Although it is patronized by the President of the country, the Barillas ‘restaurant” is little more than a snack bar. The nearest town was Usulutan, to which the Barillas van shuttled cruisers twice a week for shopping. On one side of the main drag were two fairly modern supermarkets while on the other was a warren of street vendors sprawling for many blocks. It may say something that a highlight of the trip for cruisers was the lunch rendezvous at the fast-food chicken joint.
On a tour to San Salvador, the capital city, (where there is a very American Price Smart!), we were finally introduced some real El Salvadoran cuisine when we interrupted our touring for lunch at Patty’s Pupuseria, an unpreposessing eatery high atop a hill overlooking the city. “Pupusas” are a sort of fat corn tortilla with meat, cheese and/or beans baked inside and eaten with scoops of “curtido”, a pickled cabbage salad. After lunch, we got to go back into the kitchen to see how they were made. When we got back to Barrillas, we suddenly discovered that pupusas were all around us, in Usulutan, where we had previously only had fried or roast chicken, and even in the little restaurant at Barillas itself. None of them, however, measured up to Patty’s.
Pupusas (Makes 10-12)
1 one-pound bag of rice or masa flour
Put flour and a little salt in bowl. Add warm water a little bit at a time, kneading and folding the dough until it is only slightly sticky.
Coat hands with oil. Pinch off a golf ball size on dough and flatten. Make a cup in the pancake. Add a spoonful of filling, enclose and reform ball. Then reflatten to a thick pancake.
Cook three minutes a side on a well-oiled skillet. Serve hot with Curtido.
Curtido (Make ahead)
Shred cabbage and carrots in whatever quantity you choose. Place cabbage in a glass jar and cover with water and a liberal dose of salt. Let stand 5-10 minutes until soft. (Add more salt to help it wilt.) Drain & rinse.
Add shredded carrots, chopped onions, oregano, and peppers. Add vinegar to half. Mix and shake and let sit overnight