Sunday, 3 January 2010

Isla del Rosario – Great Food, but Someone Paid the Price

The beaches in and around Cartagena are to say the least, pretty crap. Dark brown sand, dirty looking water. They are jammed packed with vendors selling their wares. It’s harassment every 5 seconds.
The list of things to buy on the beach are endless, ranging from drinks, sweets, fruits, cooked fish, t-shirts, sunglasses, local curios, massages and you can even get your hair braided.
After walking up the entire length of the beach we decided that it was pretty pants. Plus it was a quiet day, so the amount of harassment was enormous. Too much to handle.
Trying to get away from everyone, we ended up in the so called fancy Hilton hotel. I used an old trick I always used in the Middle East. It’s amazing how by just being a white tourist, how much you can get away with. We spent the afternoon in the pool. Noone battered an eyelid or questioned us. All you have to do is make out you are staying there. I have friend who on stopovers from Singapore, regularly visits 5 star hotels in Dubai and uses their amenities.
There are some nice beaches about an hour or so by boat from Cartagena. The largest is on La Isla Rosario. We booked a couple of nights at a hotel belonging to the Santa Clara. An ex nunnery now transformed into Cartagena’s most stylist hotel.
The hotel has only about 16 rooms. All created to give you that feeling of class and style. Something, since I stopped being a travel agent. I have missed.
The hotel has 2 beaches, they are both small and compact. The sea is nearer to the Caribbean that I know, but not quite. Most of the visitors to the hotel only come for the day. So after 4pm the island is pretty quiet. A great place to relax.
The menu for lunch and dinner is short and sweet and heavy on the fish. Which, staying on an island is pretty good, and makes a lot of sense.
A lot of the food as in most professional kitchens is kinda precooked. Difference in the kitchens I have worked in is that all food is chilled as quickly as possible. Reason being is bacteria thrives at between 8˚C and 64˚C. So you have to get food down below this as soon as possible. We do this with a blast chiller. A super duper freezer type machine that blasts so much cold air, that within less than 90 minutes all food is more or less bacteria free. Well as long as you heat it above 72˚C for a minimum of 2 minutes before service.
From what I can gather speaking to people and looking in kitchens. Not many if any have blast chillers. I heard of a large chain of restaurants here in Colombia that pour their sauces in plastic bags and dunk them in buckets of water to cool them down before sealing them. A hot house for bacteria.
Now there is a theory that us in the West have become more suspectical to bugs and bacteria in our over mollycoddled lives, and peoples in other parts of the world are more resistant to these bouts of food poisoning.
The restaurant on the island served some fantastic food cooked in their kitchens. The whole red snapper had crispy skin and soft juicy flesh. Everything we ate there was perfect. Even la Cazuela del Mar had a fantastic taste and was full of different types of fish.
Now only one of us had that Cazuela del Mar, and only one of us suffered a bout of food poisoning in the worst degree.
A morning of vomiting followed. We were supposed to check out at 12pm, and the boat was not till 4pm. Surprisingly the hotel allowed us to keep the room till the boat was due to leave. Makes sense really, who wants to see a vomiting guest whilst you are eating.
Now I can only think of one reason for this. The soup had been left to cool down all day, more than likely in the pot, rather than in a fridge. Or had been put straight in the fridge after cooling a little. Which means it was full of bacteria. The pieces of fish were cooked in the soup when it was ordered. Or were cooked separately at that time, as they were soft and juicy.
Back home this would have meant a visit from the health inspector, and closure of the kitchen. Something in Colombia that I am sure never happens, as monies always change hands to prevent these things from happening.

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