Illustration by May SimargoolWords by Ruby Lawrence
I have a theory: food tastes better when you’re by the sea. Something about the salt in the air and the cool sea breeze gives the extra edge to your hunger that makes eating even more of a joy than usual.
The West Caribbean Island of Utila is a tropical haven surrounded by coral reef – and the odd whale shark – just off the coast of Honduras. As the cheapest place on earth to scuba dive, travellers flock from all over the world to slip on their diving gear and slide into the deliciously warm ocean in the hope of glimpsing rays, turtles, seahorses. Post-dive hunger needs quenching, and fast. Ask anybody on the island where the cheapest, quickest place is to get a scrumptious meal, and they will undoubtedly tell you to go find Baleada Lady.
Dodging motorcycles and the odd dog, you make your way down the bustling main street in sweltering 30-degree heat. Grab a freshly squeezed orange juice from a rickety stall and sip from your plastic pouch through a straw as you near Baleada Lady. Her stall is nestled just off the road, with plastic chairs and tables set up in a precious spot of shade. There is only one original Baleada Lady on the island; you may be served by her sister, daughter, mother, but you’ll know when you get the lady herself because she gives the most generous portions. So what exactly is a baleada, I hear you ask?
One of Honduras’s best creations; you can find them all over the country and on the islands off the coast of La Ceiba, the port city where they apparently originated. At its simplest, a baleada is a thick, fat wheat flour tortilla folded in half and filled with mashed fried beans, crumbled cheese and sour cream, drizzled with an optional super spicy chilli sauce. But baleadas get much better than this; a baleada hierarchy exists. After your simple baleada, which will cost you next to nothing, you can upgrade to a special baleada. Add freshly scrambled eggs and – a Utilan specialty – chimsol and creole cheese. Baleada Lady will provide a particularly generous dollop of chimsol, which consists of diced tomato, onion and bell pepper. Then you have your super special baleada, which will not disappoint the meat-lovers amongst you. In with the refried red beans, scrambled eggs and the rest, you can bulk up your baleada with grilled chicken, pork or sausage. If you’re lucky, there’ll be some avocado to squeeze in there too, if your tortilla hasn’t already burst at the seams. And don’t forget a few drops of mouth-wateringly hot chilli sauce.
Simple, fresh and hot Honduran food. Add a sea breeze, that just-out-of-the-ocean salty feeling, and you have the best food in the world.