Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pedros es Numero Uno!

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of hanging out with Pedro and his family at his family's restaurant, Pedro's Fishshack, Numero Uno. There is a funny story about it actually. The fish house is so popular amongst locals, that when tourists want to go they ask, "Where is Pedro's?"

Without fail, they are directed to the waterfront. There just so happened to be a local Tico who had the idea to make an impostor fish house and decided to call it Pedro's as well. People would show up and ask, "Is this Pedro's?"

"Yes, yes. Please, have a seat." And so it went.

Pedro Sr., furious upon hearing about this, painted a brilliant red "Numero Uno" on the side of his restaurant to let it be known where his fish house stood in relation to all others.

Anyhow, hanging out with Pedro Jr. is always super chill. All he does is drink, fish, smoke, fish, and drink some more. And somewhere in there, he helps run the restaurant. I usually show up to Pedro's around noon, when the fishing boats come in from the morning catch. These guys are out at 4:30 in the morning hauling nets and Pedro and a few of his relatives and friends free-dive for octopuses (nod to Tim), conch, red snapper, lobster and anything else they can pull up.

The day I went I took a look at the mahi, tuna, and a parrotfish. A parrotfish is a big damn fish with a turquoise skin with orange sherbet stripes and spiky fins--straight out of Dr. Seuss. Shrimps with arms and pincers longer than their bodies, crabs, and squid. It was fascinating.

A Parrotfish submitted for your approval: This is basically what I saw at Pedro's, sans lifeforce.

Pedro then gave me a taste of a local delicacy. Fresh, raw conch soaked in lime juice with a pinch of salt. It was chewy and tart, and tasted surprisngly refreshing and not at all fishy.

Have some freakin' conch already--I'll take mine with lime.
The real thing is even less appetizing than this picture, but far more tasty.

After a look, I struck up a conversation with Pedro's dad, Pedro Sr. for whom the eatery is named after. He is well into his 70s, still laboring hard with his 3 boats for a diminishing catch and increased competition from larger corporate outfits. Gas prices are rising and he can feel the labor in his bones, but none-the-less he enjoys the work. And really, what else is there to be done?

It is funny, sad and true that sometimes the entire family will get pissed one night, and then continue to drink for 2 weeks straight. No lie. The fishing stops, the restaurant stops, eating stops. There is a laid back relaxation to everything, but at the same time, there is a low lying tension. The world is changing, Tamarindo is becoming more commericalized, city ordinances have changed so the fish shack is technically too close to the water... All of this makes for a quiet desparation that puts paradise into relief.

Pedro's mom, Angela, is a sweet and sharp woman. You can see in her eyes the numbers being crunched; the next week's finances being calculated. It is my thought that Pedro's exists because of this shrewd woman. Despite her alacrity, she is still mirthful, genuine, and quick to smile.

After talking, I purchased arroz con leche, a rice pudding made with cinnamon from a local merchant. This is the kind of wandering merchant that usually frequents local businesses, and for whom gringos rarely patronize. The pudding was still warm, and Pedro and I enjoyed a juice made fom milk and starfruit, each eating our pudding in silence.

Pedro then told me about some of his horror stories from diving. To catch an octopus, they have a long pole with a hook at the end. You can't see octopuses very well since they are such experts at camouflage, but one thing makes them standout: their posture. The stand perfectly still and hope that you pass right over them. If you know what to look for you can see their eyes protruding from their large round heads. So, having the luck to see an octopus, you slowly extend the pole with the hook underneath it. It will not move because it is banking on its gambit of deception. When the hook is underneath it, jerk, and as fast as you can, grab the head. Flip the animal over and bring the hard end of the pole down on the center of the beak and try to kill it by crushing it as quickly as possible. Once thats done, turn the head inside out and discard the brain and entrails. In less than 30 seconds you have caught, killed, and cleaned an octopus. Pedro assures me that speed is the key. With the entrails hovering about you, other fish are attracted and that is generally when Pedro will use his speargun to hunt for snapper. Speaking of his experience of hunting octopuses, Pedro confided:

"Once man, I didn kiel it fast enough man. It wrapped eight legs around me and started to bite me with its beak man. Man, that beak hurts you man."

Pedro's girlfriend confirmed this telling me a story of Pedro returning from a morning's fishing expedition with an arm covered in blood and circular hickeys.

"You have to pry those suckers off one at a time man. They leave poka dots like this." Pedro slowly makes sucking sounds. It then occurs to me that all of this action is happening on a single breath of air under about 4 meters of water. I laugh and continue to eat my pudding.

This is the horrifying maw of a squid. Can you imagine engaging in single, mortal combat with this?

"Man bro, I need to burn." Pedro produces a joint, and begins to puff. In quiet solemnity, I look on. *grin*

At one point I asked if I could see the cooks do their work, as I am interested in local cooking and everyone here was so friendly.

"Sure man, sure."

Upon entering the hectic kitchen, I met two Nicaraguans, Antonio and Kenya. Antonio is a flamboyantly gay cook, with french manicured toenails and the smoothest legs I have seen outside of a magazine. Kenya is a sweet woman who earnestly preps vegetables and sauces. Right away, Antonio begins to direct me in preparing seafood pasta, frying plantains, and the correct manner in cooking small blue crabs. In a cooler is all of the bounty that Pedro caught earlier that morning, waiting to hit the pan. So I cooked and asked lots of questions in broken Spanish and had a quite a few laughs. It was a great experience.

After my stay at Pedros for the day, I brought them the tropical fruit salsa I prepared as a thanks. Needless to say, Pedros is Numero Uno for me, and I would recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Tamarindo.


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