Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

local food bocas del toro panama
Eli peddling octopus and lobster from his kayuka
(dugout canoe) at Bocas del Toro marina.

Even though we”re now in our 3rd year of cruising, I confess to still be a far cry from my ability to “live off the land” when it comes to chow, or even understand the “proper” way to negotiate food purchases from the locals.  

Too many years purchasing food in USA supermarkets.  When it comes to street savvy, outside local supermarket fixed prices, I just don’t know how much to bargain and when to just walk away (or – how to diplomatically “shoo” someone offering something I’m not interested in or willing to pay their price at our boat).

Thus, when I paddled my grocery-laden kayak back to Bocas del Toro marina from Bocas town, I didn’t know how to respond to the fellow hovering hear our boat in his kayuka.  Given my anemic Spanish vocabulary, I left that to Wayne.  

The fellow in question was Eli, a local Panamanian fisherman was coming by to offer us fresh caught, live lobster and octopus.  We eat both, though I have zero experience in preparing either live.  Nor did I have any idea what to pay – nor did Wayne.

Eli offered 2/$10 tiny lobsters and I figure the octopus was beyond my culinary “skills” that day.  Besides, I know octopus are among the smartest critters in the sea, and I always feel a bit guilty on those rare occasions when I eat them.  We opted for one lobster for $5, figuring we were probably overpaying but felt like about what we were willing to pay.  I was confident there were enough cruisers in the marina I could get enough info on how to prep it.  

Eli paddled away, looking mildly unsatisfied with the transaction, as were we.

local food bocas del toro panama
Our dinner guest.  Wayne wet his whistle, then it was off to the sauna.

“Should we just let him go?” Wayne asked, half seriously.  

I still remember early on in our dating, he asked me how I could eat anything so cute when I ordered a plate of crayfish from Jake’s and eagerly devoured every last nibble I could get from those “bugs.”  And those few times I’ve ordered lobster in a restaurant, I’ve refused to pick mine out.  I just don’t want that personal of a relationship with an animal I plan to eat.

Wandering the docks, I was told preparation entail ripping the lobster’s head from its body, ideally also removing the vein that carries the lobster’s “stuff” before cooking.

local food preparation assistant
Pete’s shirts offer one of the best inspirations for overcoming illiteracy!

Our neighbor “Naked Pete”* of El Mio took pity on me and dropped by, donned a pair of leather gloves, and in snap demonstrated the technique on our hapless lobster.

*Pete claims he’s often naked; hence the nickname.  We told him we didn’t mind.

“What did you pay?” Pete inquired.  “$5,” I explained, admitting we figured we overpaid.  “My guy Eli, I generally buy 24 or so and only pay $1-2; and this one’s on the small side.  Don’t want to get those guys to think they should charge more,” he chastised, gently.

Turns out we figured out we did buy from “his guy.”  Next time we’ll know better, especially as we’re well provisioned enough we rarely “need” what’s being sold.  It’s more a treat, and a way of helping the local economy.

Fortunately, the lobster was quite delicious; Wayne even ate half.

Best of all, it was a good opportunity to get to know our neighbor, and get acquainted with the sartorial splendor of Pete’s outrageous t-shirt collection (Pete didn’t live up to his nickname during our stay).

galley wench tales cooking
After Pete beheaded the lobster, I boiled it until
it turned pink (about 15 minutes), then cutting it lengthwise
and then removing the vein.  We dipped them in melted butter
with crushed garlic.  Yum!

Location Location
This blog post is a retrospective from when we first arrived in Panama and stopped in Bocas del Toro marina (N09.20.142 W82.40.718). We’re now in Panama’s historic backwater, Portobelo PANAMA (N09.21.872 W79.53.611), a three hour motor-sail from Club Nautico.  Portobelo’s deep bay offered an alternative to hanging out in Shelter Bay marina for ~$40/day or outside Colon in the shadow of the port, where our dinghy needed to be brought up ever evening and we were afraid to walk in its reputedly rough neighborhoods with more than a few dollars on us.  We’re on track for our canal transit, beginning February 13th, 2015.  How odd — we’ll be spending Valentines Day finish up a two-day passage through the canal with a canal advisor, Wayne’s folks and two dear friends from Vancouver WA as our line handlers.