As we work our way toward two years of camper life one of the things that I notice most is what we eat. Or, should I say, what we don’t eat. Our diets are mainly regulated by our proximity to places that sell food, how much of that food we can fit into our tiny fridge, and if the weather allows our fruits and vegetables to spoil in one day or four. In many ways it’s like living in a dorm. Ramen, peanut butter, pasta, and rice are on the menu almost every day of the week
This is not to say that inventive camper cooking can’t be done. Our friends over at The Next Big Adventure are prime examples of gourmet overlanders and I wish we were tagging along with them. I’d simply park myself close enough to their camper so they’d have no choice but to invite me for dinner every night. However, most nights we’re alone in various campgrounds and the aforementioned staples grace our plastic plates.
But, every once in a while we drag out clothing that passes as smart casual, make sure our hands are clean, take ourselves out of the hoi polloi realm, and make a reservation somewhere that offers tablecloths and matching cutlery.
Oh, and we have to remember to strut in like we belong there. We may be hobos but the maître ‘d doesn’t know that, especially when Will’s shirt has a collar and my nail polish isn’t chipped.
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
When we arrived in Brazil I was tasked with finding a restaurant where we could drop an obscene amount of money on food and take in my first look at Iguaçu Falls. Our choices were limited as most of the restaurant action takes place just across the border in Argentina. It didn’t take me long to decide on Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. Fancy, formal, and right beside the falls I knew that sparkling wine would be served in something other than a coffee cup and I’d likely have a real linen napkin for my lap.
However, getting there is another story.
Since the hotel is located inside the national park entrance is generally limited to hotel guests only. It took several emails and phone calls to ensure that my name was on some fancy list and that we’d have access to the private gate. That didn’t go quite as planned; in the end we had to ride the tourist bus like commoners but hey, since it was the last bus of the day we did have the whole thing to ourselves.
People in South America eat late. If you find a restaurant open at 7pm you’re lucky. The restaurant at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas was no different. We found ourselves in the bar area, seated outside on a lovely patio, the falls roaring in the background. As a sipped from my glass (a real glass!) of a surprisingly good and very dry Brazilian Brut our server informed us that the kitchen didn’t open until 7:30pm. We had nearly two hours to kill. So, we did what anyone would normally do in that situation.
More sparkling wine for me, more beer for Will.
When it finally came time to place our order I was torn. I’d had all this time to peruse the menu and I still didn’t know what I wanted. Filet? I always have that. Duck? Oh man, I love duck but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. In the end I decided on something wild, literally.
Wild boar with a tamarind glaze and a manioc puree.
It’s been a while since I’ve eaten any kind of game (that I know of) so I was really excited. When my dish arrived I was stunned. A perfect slab of boar belly was placed in the center of a beautiful gray plate, the edges dotted with mustard seed, glistening with tamarind, and nestled in a swath of manioc. This was no camper food.
I picked up my knife and fork only to realize that the knife was useless. This gorgeous slab of meat fell apart at the slightest touch. My first bite was almost a shock; there was the immediate sweet and sour of the tamarind, the smooth taste of pork fat, and that strong mineral flavor that comes from an animal that eats whatever the hell it wants until it dies.
I handed a piece to Will. “Yep. You can taste the adrenaline.”
That piece of boar now ranks as one of my top five meals ever and I’ve eaten some damn good food in my life. We also shared a bottle of Argentinian syrah that I chose from the wine list. Our server praised my choice, indicating that this wine is the sommelier’s pick for the boar. It was, indeed, the perfect wine.
We rounded out our dinner with a simple mixed berry cheesecake and watched the hotel staff prowl the hotel grounds in search of the jaguars that are known to lurk there. Maybe there was a jaguar. I don’t know. I was too busy with that cheesecake.
If there’s one thing that I love more than anything about living in a camper it’s getting out of the camper. Our evening at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas was exactly what I want when we pretend to be fancy, when we order food we could never prepare for ourselves, and when we have a moment to feel like we haven’t just spent almost two years on the road.
But when the bus deposited us back outside the hotel gate and our taxi was waiting to take us back to the campground I was happy to go.
I wanted to sleep off that wine and boar belly in my own comfy bed.