Overland miles: 3836 Tacocount: 53 Days without Sodas: 2
When we’re on the road, I’m generally in the market for prawns. Mostly King, and usually a la Plancha, if you’re asking. But Clare, who – and here I’m letting you into a dirty little secret PFB fans – doesn’t like prawns – usually plumps for a tuna salad. Now I’m the sort of understanding, open-minded guy who totally accepts that someone’s plate of gold is another’s heap of ashes, and I get that not everyone on this planet enjoys a succulent, tender, meaty mouthful of shellfish as much as I do. But I have been known to squawk petulantly “You want a what?!” when Clare orders an upturned can of tunafish on a pile of sweaty, wilting leaves. I know, that’s the kind of stand-up hubby I am.
But every now and again, I must, as per the wedding vows I mentally renew every day, obey her wishes. And so it came to pass that we found ourselves in the courtyard at the charming restaurant Doña Luisa Xiotencatl – she’s happy to be called Doña Luisa – in Antigua. We were actually here on a tip that Doña L bakes the best banana bread in town (more of that later), but it so happened that a Ensalada de Chef con Atun was on the menu.
After the craziness of the last few days navigating a river crossing at the Mexican border and hurtling around the lowlands of Guatemala in search of the lost cities of the Maya, we had come to Antigua in search of an easier pace of life. We certainly found it here. Guatemala’s shining jewel in the south is both a resilient relic (it was a former capital city and survived several major earthquakes during the colonial period), and a thriving, cosmopolitan centre of tourism and artisanal craftsmanship. The lingually inclined come here to learn Spanish, although we had already decided that its many successful language schools were too expensive and not immersive enough for our needs. A lot more simply come for the city’s maze of shabby-chic streets (literally a labyrinthine grid in which we got lost several times getting to the same places), and throbbing nightlife (of which more later). Many stay longer than planned, and quite a few set up gringo bars and cafes – like the imaginatively titled Y Tu Piña Tambien and Cafe No Se – for all those language students to chill out and get toasted in. It’s an enticing equation for foreign travellers.
Doña Luisa’s place, on Calle 4a, is very representative of this formula: one of the oldest and possibly the most well known cafe in the city, it effortlessly blends old-world charm – sporting an on-site bakery and beautiful courtyard restaurant staffed by a neatly attired army of camareras (waitresses) – with an international menu, and a nifty way of ordering from it:
Well, as you might have noticed, I went for a Club Sandwich and a side of papalinas (which turned out to be crisps). I have to say, it was pretty mega:
The chicken element was actually very finely diced breast blended with herbs and peppers into a yoghurt-y sauce. Slightly strange but very creamy and moreish. Crisp strips of salty bacon provided a crunchy underlay for the wholemeal shag pile encasing the filling. But the most addictive ingredient by far was that bright orange, oozing flap of 100% American cheese. Biting into the whole creation in one go was a magnificent experience: like jumping into an edible ball pool filled with sherbet. I hadn’t had a proper sandwich for forty days: perhaps I had lost a little perspective. The crisps were pretty irrelevant; I would have preferred chips.
But the real star of the show was pudding. We’d heard that banana bread (strictly speaking, plantain) came fresh out of the ovens around 2pm, and as we got there, the smell was overwhelming. I imagine heaven would smell like this, all day long. You could order the stuff for 13Q (about a quid) for half a loaf: cheaper than the clearly sub-standard product being sold on the streets of Flores and El Remate. We were completely at the mercy of the sweet, nutty scent of freshly roasted fruit accosting our senses. We promptly ordered a half-loaf to go:
I can’t do anything about the cling-film wrap obscuring the excellent quality of the bake in this shot, but we can testify that it was a beautifully moist, fluffy creation, still warm from the oven; it stayed fresh to provide us with a delicious night-time snack for several days.
Oh my! I nearly forgot about that tuna salad. Ok, here’s how Clare looked when she got it (it was a healthy version, so it included a portion of my yogurt-y chicken and some cottage cheese alongside):
As I say, I find it hard to get excited about this dish. Some fat, juicy prawns on top: now you’re talking. But how can you say no to that face?