A guy’s gotta eat.
I don’t mind traveling alone. In fact it often leads to interesting situations that wouldn’t happen if you were with a travel buddy. But every once in a while you wind up feeling like the weirdo by yourself in a restaurant while everybody else is hanging with their friends.
On my first free day in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I decided to try something new. Walking food tours. A chance to eat your way through the city, learn a little something along the way, and not be the weirdo all by yourself.
I signed up for the Flavors of San Juan Old San Juan Food Tour which was mostly food with a little booze, and later in the day I tried Spoon Food Tours Sip & Savor Drinking Tour which was mostly booze with a little food.
But, let me back up.
I began the day visiting a Saturday market in the courtyard of the San Juan Museum. Not what you picture for a traditional market, but a new-fangled, hipster, organic market where I bought myself a breakfast of guava-filled scone and hand-squeezed orange juice. I had a conversation with organic farmer Kaleb about his impressive and photogenic produce that led to a lesson in chem trails, then found myself a quiet spot to enjoy my meal in the shade that my northern body craves.
At 10 am I met Victor from Flavors of San Juan and along with a dozen others we set out on a three-hour eating tour through the cobbled streets of Old San Juan. We made five stops, including coffee, ceviche, plantain mofongo and a dreamy little place that I think was called Senior Popsicle. It was a bit of icy heaven, but let me say that popsicles aren’t meant to be slowly savored in tropical climes…it’s more of a race against the heat as you try to stay ahead of the sticky enemy.
Along the way, Victor shared history and culture of the island. He brought us to places I wouldn’t have found on my own, and the 12 of us quickly became a happy, well-fed family.
The fates were smiling on me, because our tour ended with rum tasting about three blocks from my hotel and I managed a mid-day air-conditioned siesta before heading to my 5pm drinking tour with Caroline from Spoon Food Tours.
Caroline explained that she wouldn’t be drinking with us. A previous encounter with an island drink called whiskey coconut had left her in a pregnant state. But her sense of humor and understanding of the island offered our group of five a light-spirited romp through neighborhood bars sampling the different ways you can drink rum.
We started with some nebulous fruity drink, followed by the required mojito and pina colada and finished the night with a stellar, mustachioed mixologist in a corner bar who offered a wizard’s menu of rum concoctions, or created something completely new at his or our direction.
I can’t recall what my final drink was named (perhaps the result of a successful drinking tour) but I do know it included rum and pickled beet juice.
I know…I made the same face you just did…but it was good. I liked it. It was also something I had never tried before (and never will again).
As Louise Fresco says, “Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.”
And I can totally identify with that.