"A homemade meal by my wife and I, very humble but I’m sure you are going to like...sopa de frijoles which is bean soup but Honduran style with fresh made corn tortillas and smoked ribs and cream."
Everything about that description sounds alluring and it came in the form of an invite to enjoy homemade Honduran cuisine with our friend Francisco, his wife Jackelin and their two small children Ana and Aaron.
Francisco, or just Cisco to friends and family, is one of the first people we met on our initial trip to Roatán. Actually, if we're counting who we met in person, he is the literal first. It was Cisco who picked us up from the airport on our introductory trip to the island. He also drove us, along with our agent Edi, to view all of the homes we considered. He runs much of the property management firm, Roatan Island Property Management, that he and his sister Ana own together. Ana is our other real estate agent and has quickly become one of our best friends. Not only did they help us find our home, Cisco manages it while we're back in the States. On a more notable level, he's hilarious and his laugh is infectious and frequent.
To this day Cisco is still the first and last friend we see when traveling to Roatán. He meets us at the airport with a big smile and a huge hug to drop off our keys and jeep and we reverse the process on our way out.
Roatán, for a relatively small island, is home to wonderfully distinct cultures. Though there are many subcultures, the primary ones are the Islanders, the Garifuna, and the mainlanders who've moved to the island from just across the water.
Cisco and Ana's family are from the mainland, their parents are still there in the city of San Pedro Sula. They also lived, ironically for us since we live in Charlotte, in North Carolina when they were kids so there's a bit of cross-culture as well, but their roots are mainland Honduras and the cuisine we were invited to try is a staple and very traditional Honduran soup dish.
While doing a little searching online I found a few versions of the soup as well as versions for neighboring countries and regions. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala - they all have their own Sopa de Frijoles (Bean Soup). The foundation always begins with beans and rice, pork or beef of some sort, and local herbs but each have unique variances depending on the region. They also tend to have a few veggies, sometimes a boiled egg, and other add-ons to round out the meal. Oh, plus handmade tortillas! YUM.
The version we enjoyed had red beans (I've noted that there seems to be a regional difference as to whether they should be red or black beans, in Cisco's email to me with the recipe he was clear: Red Beans!), chopped garlic, onion, green pepper, black pepper, salt, comino (cumin), Consome de Res (beef consume), culantro (a wide version of cilantro), boiled eggs, green bananas, small smoked pork ribs then finished with fresh sliced avocado and a spoonful of crema, similar to what we know as sour cream.
Cisco's home sits on a hill just above French Harbor, a populated hub on the center of the island. The winding road climbs slightly from the main road, passing between homes, a school, a church or two and a couple small apartment buildings. The higher we got the road narrowed and the turns became tighter. Luckily we followed behind him from the main road, otherwise we wouldn't have found it.
When we arrived we were greeted by his family as well as the intoxicating scent of beans, pork, garlic and onions simmering for hours on the stove. After meeting everyone we settled in at the kitchen table which was open to the living room while Jackelin manned the stove, stopping every so often to join us and catch up on the conversation. The kids seemed utterly delighted to have company, giggling and frolicking throughout the house, bringing us stacks of toys to admire while providing plenty of entertainment as we chatted about the food with Cisco and Jackelin. Eventually the smell of homemade tortillas toasting took over which has become a scent I immediately recognize in Honduras.
Their tortillas aren't the thin "wrappable" ones we have at home, ya know, the ones made for a burrito or soft taco. Honduran tortillas are thicker and more doughy, almost pillowy. They have a deeper chew and are definitely more filling than the American version. They are made with flour, water, salt and oil then hand-stretched and cooked on a flat top. After only a few seconds on the heat they start to brown and emit a nutty bakery-like aroma. Their purpose is to sop up soups and gravies as well as being the shell for baleadas, a traditional Honduran street food filled with refried beans, crumbly cheese and avacado with a variety of other fillings to add if you desire.
We sat at the table, taking in the fragrance of the meal taking shape on the stove just a few feet away. We talked about the island, Cisco's time living in the U.S. as well as his experience moving back to Honduras. We talked about U.S. politics and Honduran politics. We talked about the little ones who continually brought us more toys to enjoy while we waited to eat. I think they knew we were hungry because they kept bringing us plastic versions of desserts: Chocolate chip cookies, ice cream cones, etc.
We didn't wait long, within 10 minutes tortillas and hot sauce hit the table, then a bowl of sliced avocados, limes and crema, then the star of the show: a piping hot bowl of Sopa de Frijoles filled with a pile of rice, beans, sliced green braised banana, tender pork ribs and a halved boiled egg. A squeeze of lime, a few slices of avocado, a spoonful of crema and it was time to enjoy our first bowl of homemade Honduran-style Sopa de Frijoles.
The name Sopa de Frijoles, or "bean soup" doesn't do this dish justice, it's so much more complex than simply "bean soup". It's a hearty meal in a bowl, a grouping of the regions freshest ingredients slow cooked together to create a deeply flavored and rich porridge highlighting the local veggies and eggs and fruit and rice and herbs. It's a cultural experience, a taste of history. Every bite can change depending on how you choose to construct it. A bit of braised green banana, a dip of the tortilla in the broth, and big helping of beans with rice and culantro. Or maybe a bit of "fall off the bone" rib meat with some crema and hot sauce. Each bite has a touch of savory with a bit of spice, a bit of heat, a bit of smoke with pork bone broth and starch from the bananas to thicken it up. A last minute squeeze of lime juice brightens everything while the avocado helps cool your palate along with the crema. Perhaps this is why Sopa de Frijoles has been a regional staple for all these years, it's comfort food for the soul.
It was such a wonderful lunch and afternoon, adding to our array of experiences on the island, learning the differences in culture that exist but also the complete commonality that we all share, no matter where we are from. We believe the more you travel the more you learn that we are all basically the same. We all want happiness, security, love from our family and friends and we all need food. Experiences like the prove it over and over again and spending time with Cisco's family and playing with his kids will remain one of our favorites on the island.