World traveler and food connoisseur Suzie, who must be related to author Calvin Trillin (although she don't claim him for their politics don't mix), has been after me to write something about my experiences with food in Honduras. I will attempt to satisfy her palate, but in all fairness think she should reciprocate and give us her secret for staying so slim and in shape as she enjoys the world’s cuisine. How about it Suzie? Suzie is a good friend and was concerned about my own diet, wondering if I subsisted on the peanut butter and crackers we'd purchased for hurricane preparation. I assure you that weren’t the case. However, I suppose eating that much peanut butter could be another reason not needing Imodium AD!
When I travel, I try to eat traditional foods. A few years ago in Korea, I went nearly ten days without a western meal! It was wonderful, but I digress.
First, let me say something about traditional food in Honduras. One of the things that impress me about the folks in the mountain villages is the self-sufficiency of the families who own some land. Their fenced yards include a number of citrus trees (oranges, grapefruit and lemons), a few banana trees (or are they bushes) and some coffee plants. They’ll even do their own drying and roasting of coffee beans. On a piece of mountain ground, they’ll grow corn, beans, and other vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and badasde along with more coffee and maybe pineapple. Almost all villagers have chickens (for eggs) and a few will have hogs. Some have boxed bee hives like we know of in the United States, but most will harvest honey from hives they find in hollow trees. The most unique beehive I saw was a section of a tree that had been cut down (I posted a picture of the hive earlier). This hive was discovered up on the mountain and they’d blocked in the entrance for the bees, and cut the tree down with a machete (I can’t imagine this was done without a battle with a few swarming bees). Then they cut one end of the tree with a saw, at the point the hollow section began. This end was plugged with mud. The log sits above the ground on two Y sticks. When they are ready to harvest the honey, they’ll build a fire at the base to drive out the bees, then dig out the packed dirt on one end and retrieve the honey.
Traditional meals generally include tortillas, fried beans, bananas or papayas, eggs, a starchy vegetable and, for one who likes sharp cheddar, some pretty bad cheese. The tortillas are mostly with ground corn, but sometimes with flour. The bananas or papayas are boiled or friend within honey or some sweetener. The eggs can be fried or scrambled. The starchy vegetable could be badasde (a starchy vegetable that looks like an avocado with ridges and tasted like a cross between a potato and squash) or yucca. In most cities, you can get fried chicken and steaks, although the quality of the meat is not always the best. Power Chicken (that’s their name, instead of pollo grande or something) is a Honduran franchise that’s much better than KFC. In addition to great chicken, they have good baby-back pork ribs, but a bit fatty for my palate.
For those tired of eating the Honduran food, there seems to be Chinese restaurants in most small towns, and you can find Wendy’s and MacDonalds and KFC, among other familiar places in the cities. Outside of the Wendy’s in the San Pedro Sula airport, I never tried any of these. I enjoyed the restaurants in Tegucigalpa (along with Copan) more than San Pedro Sula. The capital and Copan are both nestled in the mountains and cooler that San Pedro. Many of the better eating places there are in the open, under thatched roofs, where you are protected from the sun and rain, but able to enjoy the breeze. However, in Tegucipalpa, you have to deal with auto exhaust and the honking of horns, unless you carefully choose the eating establishment.
One of the two best places I ate at this year was Pupusas Universitarias. Dinner included pinchos, skewered meat and vegetables, and the meat was of a high quality. Unfortunately, I’m told, the best meat is often exported. The second was El Patio, where I had a Honduran steak at the insistence of my host (I’m not a big beef eater). It was very good. This was obviously a trendy place with lots of non-Hondurans in the crowd, as it’s a favorite among embassy personnel and foreign business leaders. There I sampled a rosquiller, a Honduran donut that is soaked in honey and rich enough to make Krispy Kreme a low-calorie option. I’m told that rosquillers are traditionally served at Christmas in Honduran homes. At another place, with an interesting band playing way too loud in the background, we had a traditional Honduran meal of boiled yucca with a tomato sauce and topped with fried pork. My host asked if I’d ever had pork like this before. Yes, I said, down south we call it "fat back" (something po’ folk eat). My grandma use to fix it. I didn’t like it then, nor did I care much for it in Honduras. But the yucca root was filling.
Some of the places along the coast are known for their seafood, but I spent all my time inland. I had fried fish once and it was okay. All in all, I’d take the traditional Honduran meal of beans, tortillas, fruit, eggs, bad cheese, black coffee and plenty of hot sauce. As for their coffee, I love it as long as its brewed or done "cowboy style" (as we’d call it out west). I order mine café negro (black coffee). My last cup of coffee in Honduras, at the Expresso Americana in the airport, was disappointing. It was instant. I actually found several places that seemed to be "trendy" serving instant coffee. In a country that produces such rich coffee, instant coffee should be outlawed.
Upcoming will be an article on the health benefits of dark beers. Stay tuned.