Skooter reporting 06/15/12
Popped into the narrow Central American neck of land or we call it a cape, Costa Rica may look small, but it hides mysterious cloud forests, quiet beaches and extraordinary wildlife.
Come along with me and I’ll show you Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, (old port) a place where you can find the best food in town.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Best for food
You see that woman in that bright kitchen? That’s Elena Brown flits between a pan where strips of yellow plantain hiss, and a potful of bubbling sauce. Much of her life, Elena spent practicing the traditional cooking of the Caribbean.
‘My mum had 14 children,’ she says with a toothy grin. ‘So everybody had to take a turn.’ Today she cooks at her own restaurant named after her in the seaside village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Let me give you a historical background of the town. For generations, Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has brought together English speaking settlers from Jamaica, indigenous groups from the Talamanca Mountains and Spanish creoles living in the country sincedropped anchor nearby in 1502. By the 20th century, the area had developed a distinctive culture: locals spoke Mekatelyu, a rapid-fire Creole dialect based on West Indian English, Calypso musicians composed ballads about banana companies and nasty women, and the mixture of people and ingredients turned food into one of the area’s enduring symbols.
The cuisine mixes island spice with Central American vigor. One of the most beloved dishes is the hot and sticky soup rondón, and discriminating coconut milk concoction studded with cassava, green bananas, fish and shrimp, and laced with blazing Scotch bonnet chilli peppers.
Puerto Viejo has grown into a popular seaside destination, but the area holds on to its roots. Radio sets play modern calypso songs, local smallholders farm cacao (cocoa) and – on a wooden terrace bordered with hot-pink tropical flowers, Elena serves up the recipes her mother taught her, plus a few others picked up along the way. ‘I love it when people eat my food,’ she says. ‘When people come, they aren’t just eating. They’re tasting the Caribbean.’
Artisanal fishing trips and tours to cacao farms are available from ateccr.org (half-day tours from £25).
Where to eat
Grab a table at Restaurante Elena Brown, on the eastern road out of town (dishes from £5).
Where to stay
Located four miles east of Puerto Viejo in Playa Chiquita, intimate Namuwoki Lodge has eight whitewashed bungalows accented in tropical hardwoods and cosy outdoor sitting areas. There is also a swimming pool for lounging by, a whirlpool bath and a restaurant that serves excellent grilled seafood (from £75).
From here, we’ll visit La Fortuna – best for adventure