On one of my last nights in Ubud I went to a little warung near Monkey Forest. I’d eaten there before and the food was decent, for a decent price. Tonight I hesistantly ordered the fried fish.
I love fish, except for the eyes. The reason I hardly ever order it is because it’s difficult to have to right amount of crispness without drying out the fish itself. The other reason is that when it turns out it’s the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten I would be sad to let the current number one go.
This was in Cuba, about eight years ago. Cuba back then was on the verge of its first steps into the new world. The internet, for example, had opened up to the locals a mere three weeks beforehand. Touch screens were sorcery. Locals who didn’t have a job in tourism were strictly forbidden to fraternize with foreigners.
One day, I took an illegal tour with a local – who’d show us the real Cuba. The inlands were still in shambles many years after Katrina had stopped by. If it was possible, we decided, we’d love to eat in a local’s restaurant. So, early afternoon we stop at a restaurant. The owner is hesistant but willing. He asks us what we’d like to eat. We decide on a classic Cuban dish – fish, rice and beans. He tells us to come back later, he’ll let us know when he’s caught a fish.
When we arrive again later in the day the owner decided that he wasn’t willing to take the risk so we can’t eat in his restaurant but he’s called his neighbor who was kind enough to let us eat the meal on his patio, hidden out of sight from the police.
The entire meal cost us basically nothing – but for the Cuban it was more than a months wages. The fish was fantastic – straight from the sea, perfectly seasoned and fried to perfection. That was the best fish I’ve ever eaten.
I ponder this as I wait for my Ikan Goreng. It looks good. I take the first bite and I’m relieved. It’s good, but the Cuban fish still holds first place.