Updated: Nov 30, 2018
One of the most memorable meals during my time spent in Honduras was at this great lake. It was great to be an adult and visit the country that has shaped the way I was raised.
I had been to Honduras a few times before, as a kid, so it was nice to be back as a young adult. I had started to become aware of my surroundings. I was beginning to value the details in food, cooking, and baking a lot more. Back in New Orleans I was a prep cook and studying for my accounting degree, so this was my first trip abroad having had my eyes opened to what food can and should be.
It was 2009, and needless to say there was a bit of turmoil in the country. The streets were littered with armed forces - some military, some not. My uncle picked us up from the airport and told us to stay calm and enjoy the natural beauty of Honduras. And naturally beautiful it is.
What I was really looking forward to was the trip we were going to take to El Lago de Yojoa. Apparently, some of the best fried fish and pickled vegetables could be found here, caught straight from the lake and cooked on sight. After getting some rest and still attempting to digest multiple oversized baleadas, we started the drive through some of the most beautiful terrain, to this day, that I’ve ever seen. Beautifully colored banana trees and hillsides covered with pineapples being harvested were among the many sights to take in. The terrain was lush, full of life and fresh fruit and vegetables at countless roadside stands. The roads turned us in and out of various villages - we were lucky enough to encounter a street performer with burning metal chains who blocked our car to dance until we gave him a little tip. Well played.
Finally, I could see and smell the beautiful Lago de Yojoa. The water was calm, and being fished by the local cooks whose kitchens were just a few steps away from the water itself. We pulled into my uncle’s favorite spot and sat in a covered, outside terrace directly in front of the lake. Life moved slowly and elegantly here. The waters were being fished, vegetables being grown, and fruit being picked. I wish this part of Honduras would make the news.
At the time, I had never been exposed to such a natural and sustainable way of life.
My uncle ordered for us, as there was nothing else to get here besides the red snapper, salted, spiced, and deep fried to perfection. This would be accompanied by crispy and salty platano frito, coconut black bean rice, chile sauces, and limes. However, the most intriguing things to me were the jars of fermented cabbage, onions, carrots, and peppers that were available for us to dig in to.
I looked forward to this part because I realized I had never appreciated fermented vegetables before.
I watched as the fisherman made his way back to the kitchen with two large buckets. He walked through muddy, rocky terrain without losing his balance. He was deep in thought, yet in the middle of what was obviously a methodical process. This was not just a job, but a way of life. A way to sustain himself, his family, and his community. I heard some rustling in the kitchen, some chatter, and then watched him march back into the shallow part of the lake. He appeared to be old, but showed no signs of slowing down.
The sizzle of the oil was loud. Four whole, freshly caught fish had just been dropped and the aroma of coconut black bean rice grew strong. I was starting to imagine what the plate would look like, but before long it was right in front of me.
It was time to eat.
There’s a long list of adjectives I could use to describe how perfect everything was, but I’ll leave it at just that: perfect. After some time passed, I realized I had been sucking on the fish's head for a while just staring into the magic of the lake and realizing that I was truly moved, inspired, and motivated.