Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grubbin' in Aruba

Any time I go on a trip I like to do a bit of research.  I want to know all of the fun things there are to do, the sights you have to see, and what to be prepared for.  The last thing I want to do is come home from a trip just to realize I had totally missed out on something I would have loved.  I don’t want all of my time scheduled and I don’t have to do everything on the list, I just gotta know what my options are.
My research on Aruba let me know that food was a big deal on the island.  Some people vacation there just because of it.  Aruba is  in the Caribbean and has Dutch and Spanish influences. The food was to be fabulous, and I couldn’t wait!  I found a few restaurants that had gotten great reviews on several sites that I knew I had to go to.  Then when we got there, we asked around and talked to the locals about what their favorite places were. 

Reed made besties with Lilian the lady at the Hertz rental counter just after we arrived in Aruba.  She suggested we eat at the Old Fisherman’s Hut by the bus stop downtown.  We searched for it on the way to the Hotel but with no luck.  We didn’t know yet that this was to be the norm on our trip.  The locals couldn’t give us reliable directions to ANYWHERE, ever! So for our first night in Aruba we totally lucked out.  We just wandered down the beach and ended up at a great little place called Mambo’s right on the sand with live music playing in the background. 
(this is the only picture we have from the night, but you can see how close we were to the beach)
Since we were staying in a condo for the week we went to the local Super Mart and stocked up on some necessities. Things like 30 bottles of  Diet Coke, bread,  cereal, fruit, 5 packages of cookies and several bags of chips.  I loved wandering around the store and seeing what kinds of things they stocked at their market. Some of the fruit was stuff I had never seen before, and they had amazing cheeses at the little deli.  We laughed as we got back to the Marriott with our groceries and realized that we couldn’t carry the bags back upstairs with out the help of a luggage cart!
We fell into an easy routine during our stay.  Each couple would get up and go exercise.  There was a pretty decent gym at the hotel, but the activity of choice was what turned out to be a 6 mile loop right along the beach to the lighthouse and back.  We’d eat something from the cupboards for breakfast and grab some snacks for the day and then meet up either on the beach under our cute little huts, or head out to some fun activity we had planned.  Then at night we’d hit the town for some amazing food.  
Salt and Pepper was a tasty little place right in the middle of the high rise hotel district.  Its a fun touristy area with lots of little shops to wander though.  They served delicious appetizer sized selections like stuffed mushrooms and shrimp, escargot and mozzarella sticks, all for really reasonable prices.
The restaurant at the lighthouse was the least favorite of the week.  Jeff, after passing on the very large hot dog, chose some kind of beef dish that ended up being served paper thin and completely raw.  We were all shocked.  I couldn’t stop staring at the food and thinking “how in the world could you eat that?”, but Reed says the look on Jeff’s face was priceless.  Unfortunately, the meat wasn’t priceless.  In fact I think we ended up paying for it twice!  At least the view from there was a good one!  
We had lunch at a place downtown one day called  The Old Fisherman, we realized later in the week that it was the one Lilian had recommended, she was just off on the name a little.  Shelley ordered some kind of octopus salad there.  They loved it, and even shared a little octopus with Jeff and me.  Yes, I of the squeamish stomach, tried an octopus tentacle.  It was rubbery, but not bad.  I suppose a bit like calamari, only I still like calamari a lot better.  Something about those little suction cups latching onto the insides of your mouth is a little unnerving you know?
(Jeff snapped this with his phone...still can't believe I ate one of those suction things!)
One of the places that was on my short list and was also recommended by a few locals was Papiamentos.  We were lucky to find it down the darkened, signless roads, but this place was fantastic!  We ended up coming back again later in the week!  
150 years ago the building was just a little farm house.  Now each room has been converted into cozy little dining areas filled with charming nick knacks. The real treasure of the place is their patio dining.  Surrounding a swimming pool are white floor length clothed tables, spaced below a perfectly lit canopy of trees that look like a scene straight out of Tarzan.  Great music and a slight breeze topped off this heavenly setting.  
The server warned Shelley that her food was very spicy when she ordered it.  He reminded her again when he served it up.   I thought it was a bit much.  I mean seriously how spicy can a dish they call "Mermaid" be?  Shelley’s eyes watered and she begged for more water.  Jeff and Reed tasted it with out much of a problem, but they both conceded that it was quite hot.   Then I tasted it and holy moley, I totally burned my lip!! I had to keep it on my water glass for a good 5 minutes, and then after the meal when they gave us iced towels for our hands Shelley and I used them to cool off!

Needless to say, when we came back a few days later, no one ordered the Mermaid! 
After scuba diving on Tuesday we wandered around the downtown area looking for a good lunch spot.  We found a few of the ones from my short list but none of them were open for lunch!  We stumbled upon this little spot and were the only customers there for almost our whole meal!
We had fun visiting and listening to some great Phil Collins oldies as we waited for our food.  We laughed that we had to specify that yes all four of us would like water to drink as we waited, all of us even wanted silverware.  So you can understand how pleasantly surprised we were at how fantastic our food was.  Reed had a yummy seafood soup, and Shelley and I ended up ordering the same shrimp and rice dish that we loved.  
Then Jeff's food came.  He just hadn't had the best luck so far and this was no exception.  His lunch had a little bonus with it!  Look closely...
Wednesday night we had much better luck.  We ate at a place called Bingos reccommended by the locals that also happened to be on my short list.  We laughed as we pulled up that the outside looked like a bowling alley.  The inside however was darling.  Our food was cheap, served quickly and all of us would have happily gone back!
Thursday night we ate at the only place that made my MUST DO list.  It took us a solid 30 minutes to drive down to the southern tip of the island to get to The Flying Fishbone.  
The seating for the restaurant is in the sand and as the tide comes in it laps at the feet of many of the tables.  No one wears shoes, and sunset reservations are necessary.  
I read that a few years ago the reality show The Bachelor came to Aruba and one of the fantasy dates was at The Flying Fishbone.  The food was really good.

The companty was the best, and the setting was AMAZING!! 
As much as we loved all the fresh seafood and local cuisine, there was just one taste of home that we couldn't get enough of.  McDonalds hot fudge sundaes.   The weather in Aruba varies just 8 degrees on average throughout the year, between 80* and 88*.  It's ALWAYS hot, and ice cream ALWAYS sounded good.  I'm pretty sure there wasn't a day on our vacation that we didn't have at least one of these tasty little treats!
On our last night in Aruba we couldn't decide where to eat.  There were so many great places we hadn't tried, and most of the places we had tried we wanted to go back to.  In the end we went to Papiamentos, but there will definitely need to be another Aruba trip for more good food.  In the mean time, I will remember Aruba with every McDonalds sundae it eat!

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