By Julia Stein
My tongue tingles, sweat is running down my forehead and my eyes water a little bit. What am I doing? Testing the hot sauces of Bocas del Toro.
Many of the local food stands and restaurants have jars of hot sauces on the tables known by Bocateranians as “picante”. Some are prepared by the restaurant to compliment their food and Bocas residents make others at home selling them in local stores. If you consider yourself a “chilehead”, you’re gonna love these!
It was our mission to sample a variety of these sauces in order to give readers an overview of hot sauce contenders that have found a balance between heat and flavor. To help take the guesswork out of selecting a sauce we’ve provided a heat scale for five of the islands finest blends.
Hot Bocas Pepper: Bom Bo Sauce – Local Bocas man Albert Alexander Burton was taught by his grandma how to make his yellow habaneropicante. 12 years ago, he decided to market it to restaurants and grocers who now sell the bottles for under $3. This table topper balances the right amount of spicy kick and sweetness to enhance your taste buds.The label boasts a memorable Bocas beach scene, preparation and expiration dates, and Albert’s phone number if you want to order some. Low-Medium Hot
Tropical Birds Hot Sauce – if you’ve eaten at Tropical Birds and you’re a hot sauce fan, you’ve surely sampled the green picante on the tables. This hot sauce takes a different twist from other Bocas blends with the inclusion of a heavy dose of cilantro. This sauce is distinctive for the sweet flavor that sits over the top of the sauce’s heat. We love the blend, a great topping for all of their plates of the day. To buy a bottle, ask the owner and you might catch them with an extra one in the back. Medium Hot
“Coolantro” is a treasure of Creening Cay’s master chef Joan Crabtree of Cosmic Crab Café. Joan, a mixologist from the US, best known for her cocktails, has whipped up a legendary sauce on Carenero making her a frontrunner for hot sauces in the region. “Coolantro” blends a variety of fresh herbs providing a delicate balance of spice and flavor with a “kick” that doesn’t burn or overshadow your dish. You can pick up a bottle at the restaurant or find it on the shelves at the Super Gourmet for $5. Medium Hot
I Be A Bitch Hot Sauce – Tantalize your taste buds with a fiery rush when you add Patricia Whittaker’s (“The Bitch”) sauce to your food. The sauce is an orangey red with white specs of chombo seeds – you can almost see the heat. Patricia is a Caribbean culinary queen and has been bottling and selling her sauce for years. The label features a caricature of “The Bitch” enhancing its authenticity. Her red-hot blend is sure to heat up your blood with every bite. Find her sauce at the Super Gourmet and a few other local grocers for $5.50. Hotness
Killin’ Me Man will make you sweat while the flavorful tangy taste lingers on your taste buds, leaving you wanting more. The recipe comes from local legend “Lili”, or as her husband calls her – the queen – of Lili’s Café and is a delightful mix of spicy island flavors. Killin’ Me Man is the hottest of the sauces we sampled and can be purchased at the restaurant, Super Gourmet or at the Beach Bar on Bluff Beach for $7. ***Warning to chileheads! May cause urges to top everything you eat with it!! Hottest
Most hot sauces from Bocas are prepared with local habaneropeppers and other secret ingredients. All of them are homemade, natural and prepared with no preservatives. We are lucky to have culinary queens and kings on the island bottling the fiery freshness for your dinner or as a gift for a loved one. Local hot sauce can be an excellent souvenir.
**Packing tip – If it comes in a recycled glass bottle and you’re afraid of spillage, try taking the top off, wrapping saran plastic to the top (fit to the bottle) and replacing the top over the saran.