This week we are delighted to welcome the truly dynamic and overall awesome Rika from Cubicle Throwdown to Chewing the Fat. Rika is a fellow Canuck, although the fact that she’s not from Toronto technically means that she & I should be sworn enemies. Still, even with these biases I can’t deny that Rika is one heckuva gal who takes the notion of following your dreams to a whole new level.

For those of you not yet hip to Rika and her badass journey, here’s what you need to know: Rika is a girl on the pursuit of happiness, who left the cubicle behind in 2012 for a life in nature’s aquarium instead. As a former paralegal-turned-scuba instructor, she now blogs about life as an expat on the island of Roatan, Honduras and shares stories of living the life aquatic. Her advice to anyone who wants to execute a cubicle throwdown: buy a ticket, get a tan, fall in love, never go back!

In addition to all of this, Rika is a girl who knows her food! Read on as she dishes about what it’s like to hunt for your own dinner, whether working in a gelateria is really as sweet as it sounds, just where exactly Roatan is located (and what kind of food you can expect there), and so much more!

We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?

Me too! A lot of my traveling has revolved around food, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Trying new food and enjoying well-executed food is a serious pastime of mine. I got spoiled rotten living in Vancouver, BC where you can get anything you want at any time of day!

If I was limited to only eating the food from one country, I would choose Japan, hands-down, no questions asked. I absolutely LOVED the food in Japan (and spent most of my time in Vancouver eating Japanese food as well)! There are a few reasons for this:

  • I have an allergy to peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, etc.) and Japanese food is one cuisine that I know 99% of the time I will be safe. They are not big fans of spicy food and peppers are not a common ingredient in their food. This allergy makes for a struggle for me in most other countries.
  • I have an affinity for lots of different tastes in the same meal. Japanese food can be very complex, with several small dishes of different things for a meal. I’ll blame it on my ADD, but I get bored when I’m eating and like a lot of different things to keep me interested.
  • Ummm, it’s frickin delicious!

So I think Japan would be a safe bet. I could happily exist on sushi if I had to! That is probably my favorite food….and I have tattoos to prove it! (Yes, really.)

And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?

Oh, I had a feeling you would ask this. I hate to betray my current home country, but Honduras has some pretty terrible food. Well, I shouldn’t say Honduras as a whole because I haven’t made it to the mainland yet, but the Bay Islands where I live are definitely not known for their cuisine. However, I am going to go with Peru on this one since I’m going to talk about Honduran food a few questions down.

Peru was a dichotomy; it had some of my least favorite and also most favorite food. I was surprised, because everything I heard about the country revolved around how great the food was. Maybe it was because those people were all traveling with money, or they took a different route through the country, or they spoke great Spanish and could find what they wanted… but I had a horrible time with the food in Peru. My boyfriend at the time and I traveled through the northern half of the country for 5 weeks and I spent 3 of those weeks horrifically ill from parasites and food poisoning (I looked amazing in a bikini though!) We did a super-budget trip, so ended up eating a lot of really cheap food from food stands and markets and that may have had something to do with it. I ate so much fried chicken and white rice I thought I would never be able to eat it again. I didn’t see vegetables for weeks. It was awful!

That being said, I also had some amazing meals in Peru. In the tiny seaside surf town of Puerto Chicama, I discovered parihuela (a garlicky bouillabaisse-style seafood stew with every ocean creature imaginable in it…and seaweed too) and canchita (crunchy fried giant corn kernels) which were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. And I will always be partial to lomo saltado, a Peruvian staple consisting of stir-fried tomatoes, beef and French fries! I have heard the food in the south is better as well, with more quinoa, sweet potatoes and river fish making an appearance. And had we been able to afford it, there were nicer restaurants that probably had good food at them. But in my experience, overall I did not enjoy the food in Peru. 

parihuela
Parihuela in Puerto Chicama, Peru

What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?

 I have to try everything once, so I would probably say it was cuy, or guinea pig while in Chiclayo, Peru. I had been traveling through Peru for a month already and was seriously ill with parasites and food poisoning for weeks, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it. My Spanish at the time was terrible and I didn’t realize they just battered and deep fried THE WHOLE THING and put it on a plate. I did get a few bites in and it wasn’t awful, sort of like really greasy chicken (or rabbit if you’ve tried that). The peanut sauce and potatoes you can see with it in the photo were delicious though!!

Fried cuy (guinea pig) in Chiclayo, Peru
Fried cuy (guinea pig) in Chiclayo, Peru

Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?

I don’t crave fast food on the road, however I do have a “thing” where I like to go to McDonalds in every country that I visit and try one of the weird non-North American menu items. Japan was a fun one for that!

I would say my guilty pleasure food when traveling is actually those 5 cent packages of ramen noodles! Even guiltier pleasure: I eat them uncooked! I’ve gotten so many comments on that in every country I go to, but in Canada anyone who grew up in the 90s knows how rad it is to eat them crunchy J

Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! If there were one food from back home that you could eat RIGHT NOW, what would it be?

Damn you guys for making me think about this!! Food is the one thing from home I really miss, just because the food here is not so great, and I love ethnic food so in Vancouver I had my choice of pretty much any country. Right now (and always) I am craving sushi, so I will go with that. A big platter of salmon sashimi, umekyu rolls, o-toro nigiri and some agedashi tofu would make me a very happy camper right now!

If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried? 

I’m going to use Vancouver as my hometown, and we would absolutely have to have seafood! The seafood in Vancouver is amazing due to the location on the Pacific Ocean. To start we’d have oysters at the Sandbar (http://www.vancouverdine.com/sandbar), a gorgeous restaurant sitting out over the ocean on Granville Island with amazing views of downtown Vancouver,  and then probably head over to Tojo’s (http://www.tojos.com/Home.html), for an incredible omakase dinner, which is arguably the best sushi outside of Japan.

We admit it: the first time you mentioned Roatan, we had to look it up on a map. We trust we’re not alone in this, so for those of our readers who aren’t as worldly as you are, tell us a bit about the food scene there. What are some Honduran staples that can’t be missed?

Don’t worry, I had to look it up the first time too! Roatan is an island off the east coast of Honduras, in Central America.

Some common dishes here are baleadas (a flour tortilla filled with refried beans, queso and other fillings of your choice then folded in half), fried chicken and rice, boiled plantains, rice and beans, and a hot refried beans & cheese dip with nacho chips. Most of the food is fried or deep fried, and full of flour, meat and cheese (three things I tend to stay away from). I end up not eating a lot of local food here because I usually lean towards healthy food and there isn’t much in that department here.  I do eat a ton of baleadas though, because they’re quick and cheap. They’re sort of the “street food” here! Depending on your fillings, they can be anywhere from 50 cents to $3 per baleada. If someone came here wanting to try something Honduran, I’d probably get them a baleada!

You can read more about mainland Honduran cuisine here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honduran_cuisine

That being said, the expat community here on Roatan has started some wonderful restaurants that I enjoy a lot, but the food is not Honduran. Mostly I just end up cooking my own food!

Sushi Saturday at Café Escondido, West End, Roatan…this is the best I can get down here :(
Sushi Saturday at Café Escondido, West End, Roatan…this is the best I can get down here 🙁

Prior to leaving your cubicle, you worked at a gelato shop to make a little extra cash. For most people, that probably sounds like a pretty sweet job (pun intended!), but what was the reality like? Were you ever surprised by the flavors people ordered? Did the experience ruin ice cream for you for life?

The reality was it was not as fun as it probably sounded. The master gelatiere won an award in Italy while I was working there and all of a sudden the media descended upon us for having “the best gelato in the world!” and once that started, we were on fire. I’m talking line-ups out the door for two hours after we were supposed to be closed. For the owner I’m sure it was great. For the people of Vancouver I’m sure it was great. For those of us who had to work there it was a nightmare. And for me, having to go there and work a 10 hour shift instead of a 6 hour shift after I had already put in 8 hours at the office, it was pure hell. I tried to keep the negativity about it off my blog, but I really didn’t enjoy my time there all that much. If anyone said the word ‘gelato’ to me during that time, I was ready to punch them!

It was really, really good gelato, though. And I wholeheartedly supported what the owner was doing – high quality organic ingredients, made in small batches artisan-style. I loved that. I am definitely ruined for life when it comes to gelato now… I ate SO MUCH gelato working there and it was out of this world. I’ve tried a few places since then and nothing compares.

Yeah, people always surprised me with what they ordered there. Our most popular flavor was salted caramel, and I had customers who wouldn’t order anything except that, ever. I was always surprised that people kept asking for shitty flavors full of commercial ingredients like Ferrero Rocher and bubblegum at a clearly organic/high quality gelateria (and our gelato is expensive…you want to pay $7 for one scoop of bubblegum? Really?) A lot of the time I was surprised that we spent hours creating a delicate Gewurtztraminer white wine sorbetto or hand-shelling pistachios for a Persian akbar mashti flavor (saffron, rosewater, pistachios and chunks of Devonshire cream) and then people just wanted plain vanilla and chocolate. I learned that flavor is very subjective and to just give people whatever floats their boat!

Another thing you did to save money for your trip was cook most of your meals at home and pack a lunch—for other individuals trying to save up for their own exodus, what were some of your favorite meals that helped keep you under budget and lent themselves well to being made in bulk?

Oh goodness, did I ever. I was so busy and trying to save so much money that every Monday and Tuesday night (the only time I had off for six months while I was saving for my cubicle throwdown) were focused on “how much food can I make for cheap that will last until next Monday/Tuesday night?” I planned and shopped on Monday nights, and then batch-cooked 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners and snacks on Tuesday nights and then froze them and took them out as needed during the week. I did this for six months straight!

To keep things cheap, I always made sure to plan ahead. I would jot notes in my agenda for upcoming meal ideas based on what I felt like or saw browsing cooking blogs online. I also kept a vegan kitchen at home (always have, always will!) so that helped keep the costs down as well.

Some things that I recall being easy to make in bulk and kept me under budget:

  • Rice salads: brown rice, tomatoes, black beans, cucumbers, green onions, artichoke hearts, whatever else you have lying around. I used to make lemon vinaigrette dressing that I would mix with it. You can make HUGE quantities of this and it’s delicious and cheap.
  • Spaghetti and ‘meat’balls: tons of spaghetti, couple jars of tomato sauce, real or fake meatballs and some steamed broccoli was a common dinner for me.
  • Salad in a jar: I had this almost every day. I think this is the best way to keep salad all week. Take mason jars and in the bottom put your salad dressing and protein (I always had beans or tofu), then put in your veggies, and finally put in the cut up lettuce on top. When you’re ready to eat it, just dump it out on a plate and it all comes out in the right order with the dressing on top! And because the lettuce doesn’t touch the dressing it stays nice and crisp.
  • Veggie stir-fry and rice: pretty easy and self explanatory.
  • Hot breakfast cereal: I had this every day. I would make a huge pot of gluten-free hot breakfast cereal, and add in frozen fruit, coconut milk, chia seeds, whatever I had on hand that week. Divide it up into 7 bowls, top with some peanut butter and put it in the fridge! Bam! Breakfast for the whole week, done.
  • For snacks I made a lot of sushi rolls, and just left them rolled up like big burritos for an easy one-handed snack on the go.

One of the things we always find a bit unsettling when we do dive trips in Asia is that most operators offer huge seafood buffets at lunch… given that you’re a fellow diver, does this also strike you as odd? Do they do this in South America too? We know you love sushi, but has becoming a diver changed the way you approach seafood?

Hmmm. Very interesting question. I’ve never had anyone ask me that!

On Roatan, you will never find any dive operations with huge seafood buffets. That is extremely strange to me. Roatan is surrounded by a marine park and so the fish and creatures are protected and not allowed to be caught. The exception is lionfish, which are an invasive species here. We get a lionfish license from the marine park and they give us a little course and a registered spear. I kill lionfish every chance I get, and everyone here is trying to encourage people to eat it. It’s a delicious fish and also a huge reef decimator so the hope is that getting it on the tables here will help push people to kill them. The first time I killed one I felt horrible though. I was a vegan for a long time and I still feel a little guilty eating something that had to die for me to eat it. However, I took solace in the fact that they are not supposed to be here, and at least I killed it myself and I’m going to eat it. Nothing is going to waste and they certainly weren’t factory farmed!

Lionfish hunting for my diver’s dinner!
Lionfish hunting for my diver’s dinner!

I think if anything, becoming a diver has made me respect seafood so much more. I’ve seen where they live, I see them courting, laying eggs, hunting, all kinds of stuff most people will never experience. However, I also see my island here with little job prospects for a lot of locals and so I don’t judge those who fish for food or for money. And now I would way rather eat fish from around here because I know what the water is like! Fish farms gross me out. At least I know the fish here are from healthy, protected, mostly non-polluted water. 

Website: http://www.cubiclethrowdown.com

Facebook: none yet 🙂 , I should probably get on that, hey?

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rikainroatan

A big thanks to Rika for taking part in this series and giving us so much food for thought. We hope that one day we’ll have the chance to dive with her and maybe even get to try lionfish (that’s a new one for us!) that she’s slain with her own spear!

Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (14)

  1. June 21, 2013 at 1:05 pm
    Jun. 21, '13

    I seriously need to get to Vancouver.

    I’ve been curious if that salad in a jar thing works or not, so good to know that it does!

    • June 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm
      Jun. 23, '13

      I have to admit, I’ve never been to Vancouver either—hey, flights in Canada are EXPENSIVE—but my brother is moving out there soon, so I suppose Tony & I will have a very good reason (other than eating all the things, which honestly, would probably still have been enough!) to change that when we return to North America!

  2. June 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm
    Jun. 21, '13

    Awesome!! Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this series guys, I LOVE IT!! Food is my fave 🙂

    • June 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm
      Jun. 23, '13

      So happy to have you take part & I’m sure our readers are digging all of your answers are much as we are! Keep on being a bad ass, Rika!

  3. June 22, 2013 at 10:56 am
    Jun. 22, '13

    I love food too and am a big foodie! I love the street food here in India and it is just awesome!

    • June 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm
      Jun. 23, '13

      I’m glad you are enjoying these interviews, Arti, and we’d love to feature you in a future installment if you are interested! We could do an all-India edition, which I’m sure would be fascinating (and help us prepare for our upcoming trip there later this year!). Email me if you’re interested!

  4. June 23, 2013 at 10:59 pm
    Jun. 23, '13

    Hilarious interview!! Rika sounds like one cool chick who knows (and loves) her food. Her ideas for saving $$ for travel are genius -salads in a JAR?!! Wish I had thought of that!!!

    • June 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm
      Jun. 24, '13

      I feel like “salad in a jar” is going to start sweeping the travel blogging nation! I never would have thought of that one either. 😀

      • June 28, 2013 at 10:13 pm
        Jun. 28, '13

        Haha, I totally call dibs on starting this if it takes off….but I have to admit…it was one of those “I saw this on Pinterest and I’m gonna see if it actually works or not” things 🙂

  5. June 24, 2013 at 2:12 am
    Jun. 24, '13

    I tried cuy in Ecuador once too-it was during a home-stay. The family had a few guinea pigs in their barn and they prepared a few in front of us (including the killing). That was quite something and wasn’t exactly pleasant I have to say. When I saw them dipping it in hot water to get the fur off better, I was nearly sick. 🙂 But I ate it anyway and it actually wasn’t bad at all.

    • June 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm
      Jun. 24, '13

      I’m sure some people would use it as an argument that if you can’t handle seeing how meat ends up on your plate, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it, but I don’t enjoy seeing animals of any size get slaughtered in front of me. When I was 12, I saw a moose get shot and dismembered up in northern Canada and I was traumatized for a really long time; I wouldn’t eat meat for about 1.5 years after that! I could see how cuy would be completely fine, though I admit it is a bit of a mental hurdle to see guinea pigs as food!

  6. June 26, 2013 at 9:36 pm
    Jun. 26, '13

    Looks like you really had fun. Yes I agree with you, those who fish for money should be respected. After all they get the job done for us. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  7. July 23, 2013 at 6:24 am
    Jul. 23, '13

    I’d try all that food. It’d be interesting to eat a guinea pig and then see one as someones pet. Is the guinea pig gamey tasting like rabbit is or it’s just greasy? Good move with the lionfish, two birds with one stone and all. Are lionfish hard to catch? I’ve never gone spearfishing.

  8. May 2, 2017 at 10:00 pm
    May. 2, '17

    And my worlds are combining… Steph and Tony, at least I can say that I’ve found your blog now! I connected with Rika late last year about scuba and Roatan and we have kept in touch. And Rika – Steph and Tony are regulars at the shop where I’m doing my DMT! I love this!!!

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