Island Notes #46
People take chicken pretty seriously on the island of Bonaire. Maybe after goat, it is the number one choice of Bonarians when it comes to local meat. I imagine iguana would be somewhere in third place.
We haven’t had much luck cooking our own chicken here. The frozen meat from the grocery store always turns out tough no matter which way we cook it. I’ve decided that the best way for us to eat chicken is to have someone else cook it.
To that end, you will find me most Saturday mornings pointing the Subaru wagon toward the neighborhood of Tera Korá. Take Kaya Nikiboko Sud in the direction of Lac Cai and turn down one of two side streets before you get to the La Portuguesa fruit store. At the end of either street, you will be delivered to the wonders of Carnéceria Latina. This is meat heaven, but on Saturday mornings, it’s best known for chicken delight. Outside the store are a series of serious smokebox rotisseries doing their thing. The air is piquant with the aroma of smoked chicken. Twelve guilders and fifty cents (US$6.98) gets you one whole hen, cooked and split in a Styrofoam box.
But some Saturdays I get diverted. The morning sail takes longer than expected. I run into a friend along the way and we share talk and cappuccino at Norca’s Café. Or I just linger too long on the hammock watching the clouds drift by on a palette of blue sky. Carnéceria Latina runs out of chickens not long after noon. I’ve been one of the sad ones to arrive too late for the weekend treat. But all is not lost. There is always Bobbejan’s and their wonderful chicken-on-a-stick.
Bobbejan’s is a funky, chairs-in-the-gravel, barbeque restaurant just down the street from us. They serve great ribs (so I’ve been told), mediocre fish and incredible chicken-on-a-stick called saté. Saté is an Indonesian dish, a colonial culinary transplant from Holland’s Golden Age when the East Indies Company brought back more than just spices from lands east. Its skewered pieces of chicken are smothered in a spicy-sweet peanut sauce and Bobbejan’s does it up right. They also do one hell of a business and are only open Friday through Sunday. Not a bad way to work if you have to.
But beyond Bobbejan’s, my friend, Rhian, has given new meaning to chicken-on-a-stick. Last year, she was working on Bonaire as a field scientist studying parrots. The national park gave her and others free housing at a building called, Kas Scientífico—basic digs for visiting scientists doing research on the island. One Saturday, hours after Carnéceria Latina had run out of chickens and the smoke had cleared, a juvenile caracara flew onto the porch of Kas Scientífico. For those not in the know, a caracara is a large, gawky bird with quite a long neck and a thick, heavy bill. They can be often seen flying over the park searching for prey or dead animals to feed on.
Rhian had just completed her work for the day and was just hanging out when the young caracara arrived. It promptly began overturning pots and pans, making quick chaos of the human possessions left on the porch. Rhian named him Taz, as in Tasmanian Devil, because of the bird’s destructive and irritating behavior. Let me preface this by saying that this particular parrot scientist is an animal lover at heart, but was in need of some entertainment on this particularly hot and sunny afternoon. She also needed to show the bird who was boss at Kas Scientífico.
Rhian went into the kitchen, grabbed a large piece of left over chicken and promptly stuck it on to a long, wooden stick. When Taz saw this, he believed he had arrived in caracara nirvana and immediately lunged after the meat. Rhian, being startled by the bird’s sudden aggressive behavior, began running with the chicken-on-the-stick and Taz followed, squawking loudly behind. By the time they reached the nearby park entrance, Rhian was streaming with sweat from the run. Taz was making more noise than an entire flock of caracaras.
Now this chicken-on-a-stick event would have probably gone unnoticed except that on this particular Saturday a photo shoot was taking place at the park entrance. A line of bikini-clad Bonaire beauties was posing for a gaggle of local journalists and several professional photographers with strobe lights. That is precisely when Rhian and Taz came running through the scene. Rhian summed it up best, “There I was–covered with parrot shit from a tough morning of field work and holding a stick with a piece of greasy chicken hanging from it while a mad caracara chased me from behind. I don’t think the beauty queens were too impressed with my outfit, but I think Taz and I got in the background of a few of the photos anyway!”
I contemplate this poultry paparazzi event as I gorge on smoky chicken from Carnéceria Latina. It is comfortably tranquil on my terrace this Saturday afternoon. Only the sounds of soft waves rise from the beach above. What am I to take away from this weird meeting of a crazed bird, a fun-starved scientist and near-naked beauty queens? Not much, really, other than caracaras and chicken-on-a-stick don’t mix. Or maybe they do. Someone once said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” And the beat goes on.