Two weeks in the Hispanic Caribbean has done wonders, not only to my contribution to a travel website but also to my state of health. Anyone dipping into this blog over time will have gathered how close food is to my heart, stomach and soul. Back for my second trip this year to the Dominican Republic, a constant flow of fresh seafood topped by the odd minty mojito, plus copious tropical fruit for breakfast meant that the word(s) well-being is not descriptive enough.
Bizarrely, although it was June and the humid heat was building up to its summer peak, there were only a few showers. So it was mainly clear blue skies and sparkly sunshine that beamed down on the many plates that passed before me. One place in particular could easily be deemed the best lunch with a view: Boca de Yuma. This tiny fishing village teeters atop a cliff in the far southeastern corner of the island, just 50km by road from the package holiday hell of Bavaro. So I half expected coachloads of punters in search of ‘real Dominican life’ (and how sad it is that the latter actually has to be packaged as an experience). But no. A small group occupied one of the line-up of family restaurants, and that was it. The rest was swooping pelicans, a few canoodling Dominican couples, locals simply hanging out and smiling cooks doing their best to lure us in.
After the dull palette of concrete grey, neo-colonial cream and garbage that dominated the sprawl of Bavaro, it was a relief to return to the Caribbean zingy palette as well as multiple handpainted signs. Though I was told that Hurricane Georges wrought havoc here in 1998, Boca de Yuma seems to have recovered. Down by the estuary itself (boca means river-mouth), fishing-boats hauled up onto a beach were painted similarly cheerful colours.
I heard there are still hooks in the cliff that were used by pirates to moor their boats back in the 17th century – and further up the river are caves once used by the notorious 19th c brigand, Roberto Cofresi to shelter and hide his hauls, before re-distributing to the poor a la Robin Hood. There’s pre-colonial interest too at a cave west of town in the form of Taino petroglyphs, something I’d seen a lot of on my last trip elsewhere in the island. Above all though the setting is spectacularly beautiful, with crashing surf down below and a swathe of tropical forest on the horizon.
And the taste interest? After ducking and diving between four or five similar looking comedores, we ended up at a wooden table with a fabulous panoramic view ordering the fish of the day. I expected the ever popular chillo, i.e. red snapper, or perhaps mero (grouper) but instead they suggested loro. It rang a vague bell but I couldn’t work out what it was in English. The fish turned out to be divine: fleshy, flakey, moist, and perfectly grilled.
Next day, on an eco tour in Bayahibe, I asked the guide what loro was. Parrotfish he said. Ouch! That’s the beautiful reef fish that I have admired in tropical waters all over the world for its scintillating colours and patterns – also capable of changing shape, colour and even sex in its lifetime. And there I was devouring this beauty, in total ignorance. However I’ve just checked online to see if it’s threatened with extinction, and it seems NOT, so all well. Even better, I read that in Polynesia it’s considered ‘royal food’. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss – for the stomach at least.