Restaurant 17 – Niulka and family




Jay admiring the fresh crab and lobster on display at Restaurant 17

Because Niulka had spent so much time with me today, and even sent her husband to town with us… and I just felt like it would be wrong to back out from eating at her restaurant.  I did explain the problem to her, as well as I could in my semi-fluent and yet still broken Spanish.  She was very sympathetic and offered the three least expensive lobsters at $8.00 a piece, along with French fries and fried yucca.  I thought about it, and decided that if I had figured the cost of a cab – it was still a reasonable price and just went with it.  We all sat down to await her lobster smothered in a garlicky sauce.

This was an experiment for me.  I have a sensitive stomach and I have to be careful with the meat I eat.  Something on it, especially if it’s older or been left sitting around, and also especially with chicken, will make me very ill.  It isn’t anything that bothers other people, it’s a sensitivity particular to my body – but I am very aware of this when I am at restaurants of any sort.  In order to ensure that I was getting the freshest meat, I ordered the lobster too – because I knew it was alive until just before it was served.  The thing is, last time I tried lobster twenty years ago… I didn’t like it.  I hoped my taste buds had changed… however after eating half of the dinner, I realized they hadn’t.  The girls finished my lobster for me.  I didn’t have the heart to tell Niulka that I didn’t like it – when she came by asking how everything was – I simply stated “Tan bueno!”

We arranged for Niulka’s friend, Jacqueline, to do some of our laundry the next day – and then we headed for our boat.  I was tired after using Spanish that has sat dormant for about 20 years… and glowing from the wonderful day that contrasted from the very low feelings of the previous days.  The next day – after dropping off our laundry in the morning with Jacqueline, I spent the rest of the day on the boat, swimming and relaxing.  Jay, Laura and Pat took a long walk along the beach.  Unfortunately Pat stepped right on a dead sea urchin!  The spines punctured into his foot with a circular pattern.  It was like stepping onto a miniature porcupine except the quills were tiny, didn’t have barbs and would easily break off and fester if not removed.  Laura also got a spine in her toe, even though she was wearing thongs.  Walking on the beach was treacherous here!

When they returned to the boat, they let me know that Niulka had asked for me several times and wanted me to come back the next day.  I was happy to hear she asked for me, and I baked banana bread on our stovetop – the first one for us, and a second for her.  She had asked if I had a kitchen on my boat, so I wanted to share a delicious goody that I had made in my boat kitchen!  It was super lovely having clean sheets and towels to put away that night – and sleeping with the fresh scent of soap was amazing!

The next day, we went to Niulka’s.  I brought the girls and all our computers, because her neighbor restaurant (a friend of Niulka’s) was kind enough to share wifi with us, at no charge.  I thought I might be able to post a few blogs, but it quickly became apparent that my appreciation and interest in Niulka was returned!  She sat her chair next to me and asked to see pictures of my family.  I was very happy – as I really enjoyed her, her husband and was fascinated to learn more about her way of life and her family.  I was able to spend time watching her prepare food, and really look at the surroundings I was in.  I realized that while they did have electricity for several fridges in the back, aside from this, all the preparation was done in ways that have likely been continued for generations.

The cooking was on a raised table where several clay pits had been made.  She kept a small fire going with a few dry branches, and she used very large wok and cast iron kettle for her cooking.  These were placed on grates above the fire – and were very hot!  She worked efficiently, going through motions I’m sure she’s done thousands of time already.  She ground up fresh garlic in a wooden mortar and pestle.  She added packets of seasoning “completo” and “super complete” – though I still don’t know what the difference is between the two.  This was old world cooking, served on Styrofoam plates.  It was truly amazing to watch her at work… and I may have a few different ideas for cooking in DR style.

It was really fun when she brought the banana cake over to her friend with the wifi.  Apparently she shared a little bit and the friend exclaimed and how delicious the cake was – and demanded the entire thing (jokingly I’m sure.)  Niulka had the pleasure of departing with her cake, announcing with glee that it was all hers; as she described her encounter to me.  Then she distributed some of the cake to her adorable nephew, Jose Louis, and her husband.  The friend, meanwhile, came over and I did my very best to explain to her, in Spanish, a recipe that I don’t have written down.  I just throw it together in my head, plus I’d cooked it in my air cooker.  I hope she is able to replicate it to her satisfaction.

It was a wonderful evening.  I got to know Niulka much more after spending the day with her.  I also better knew Domingo, and Jose Luis – they were all very sweet and kind people – we clicked really well together.  Niulka kept jokingly asking if I’d be coming back tomorrow, but I’d already let her know that we intended to be gone in the morning.  I gave her my e-mail and the blog information – but her only access to the internet is when her son comes home from the university for the holidays and brings his computer.  Fortunately – that starts next week!

We paid for the sodas, and a plate of French fries.  I gathered the fruit I’d bought from passing motorcycle vendors (that was what she meant when she said I could just shop here at the restaurants!)  We hugged, took pictures and then Domingo started trying to tell me something I had trouble understanding.  I’m still not sure what his point was, but he seemed to be urging us to go directly to Luperon, and to be careful not to sink the boat.  I hope I didn’t miss his point too badly.  It was another glorious day in Ensenada, but I didn’t get any blogs posted on the internet.

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