Of Rum, Plaintains, Mangoes and More

We’ve just returned to our temporary base in France after spending a blissful month in the Caribbean. Although we limited our visit to a few islands such as Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago, I think we’ve come back with enough impressions of the Caribbean to last us a lifetime.

The tropical climate and humidity reminded me a lot of my own hometown in India which is located on the south-eastern coast of the country. Also familiar were the swaying palm and coconut trees and abundant plaintain & banana all of which make these islands really green.

We were looking forward to a relaxing experience and weren’t disappointed. Beautiful beaches, plentiful cocktails and truly delicious food all combined with an overall friendly and laid back attitude helps you unwind completely.

Caribbean cocktails
Cocktails by the sea at Bequia in the Grenadines
Mango cocktail
Delicious boozy mango daiquiri

Our meals for the most part consisted of fresh seafood ranging from locally caught mahi-mahi (also called dorado or dolphin fish) to lobster along with portions of rice, salads and other local sides. And although we did not have a single glass of wine for the entire duration, we never missed it because wine was replaced by delightful cocktails – imagine fresh sweet mango blended with rum and ice to make mango daiquiris and local beers such as Piton in St. Lucia, Hairoun in St. Vincent and Carib in Trinidad, all of which complement the local cuisine very well. Rum is the staple ingredient of all drinks here simply because it’s a local product and a backbone of the economy.

The St.James rum museum in Martinique
Piton Caribbean beer
Local Piton beer at St. Lucia with an attractive label
Rum Ti-Punch
Trying out a potent Ti-punch – a mix of white rum, cane syrup and lime
Grilled fish – our staple diet for the last few weeks

Plaintains and sweet mangoes brought back memories of summer at home in India. If there’s one thing I truly miss food-wise, it has to be luscious mangoes the likes of which I’ve never seen since leaving home to live in Ireland. Plaintains are a kind of large banana (to put it simply) which only grows in certain parts of the world. It tastes a lot like ordinary bananas but with a more intense flavour. In India, it’s found in Kerala (where my parents are originally from) and in the North Eastern part of the country. I remember my father bringing back as many plaintains as he could carry every time he went home to Kerala and the disappointment when we’d finished all of them. So, I was ecstatic to see these in the Caribbean and to once again remember what they tasted like.

Plaintain tree
Plaintain tree with fruit
mango and plaintain
Mango & Plaintain – makes for a lovely fresh breakfast

The cuisine of the Caribbean is traditionally influenced by their Creole culture. A typical plate of food would have a portion of meat or fish, a simple salad, a portion of ‘provisions’ that consist of cooked native vegetables such as yam, dasheen, etc and sometimes, fried plaintains too.

spicy creole stew
A plate of spicy Creole beef stew with typical sides
Wrestling with curried crab claws – traditionally served with cassava flour dumplings

Since coconut is in abundant supply, it’s not surprising to see it being used extensively in the kitchen as well. Home made coconut icecream was common and in some places like Trinidad, they even have their very own coconut bread and coconut bake that were served warm with a helping of butter.

French toast
French toast made with coconut bread
Coconut bread
Lisa at the Mt Plaisir resort in Trinidad shows me how to make coconut bread and during a moment’s break with her colleague in the kitchen
Freshly baked loaves of bread at a pizzeria in Bequia

Another ingredient commonly used is salted fish. The one dish we tried was  ”accras’ that resembles fish cakes and was a common menu item across the islands.

You also find a deep influence of Indian cuisine especially in Trinidad where 40% of the population are descendants of indentured labourers that were brought over from India by the English to work on the sugar plantations. Indian curries, rotis (Indian flatbreads in this instance stuffed with a curry), Indian rice dishes such as pilau, even snacks such as samosas are an integral part of the cuisine here.

Roti
Roti stuffed with beef curry with a Hairoun – the perfect meal
A spice stall at the Saturday market in St.Vincent – plenty of fresh spices are grown here in the Caribbean with nutmeg being the star

I was truly looking forward to our visit to Trinidad because of all this but we seemed to have mis-timed our visit. There were a couple of public holidays and a couple of Sundays which limited our exposure to the local way of life because when it’s a holiday, Trinis (as the locals are called) love to party. Every business establishment including even restaurants are closed for the day. Therefore, we were forced rely on TGIF and the like for food on more than one occasion as they were the only choice. Such a pity!

Funky bar stools at ‘Trotters’ – a pub and restaurant in Port of Spain, Trinidad

In spite of that, we did manage to eat at a really popular Indian restaurant and a Chinese ‘Hakka’ restaurant. Hakka is a version of Indianised Chinese food that was created by Chinese immigrants in Calcutta. I got to try the chicken ‘Manchurian’ dish (made with lightly battered pieces of chicken in a mildly spicy sauce) after a really long time!

Chinese Hakka cuisine
Egg fried rice with chicken manchurian – typical Hakka food

In spite of all its similarities to my homeland, the Caribbean is like no other place I’ve been to before and although not all spots we visited were a typical ‘paradise on earth’, all of them have their own unique charm and is definitely well worth a visit!

I’ve returned with some recipes, a few spices and a lovely cookbook by Wendy Rahamut called “Curry, Callaloo & Calypso: The Real Taste of Trinidad & Tobago’ with the hopes of recreating some of the magic here in the French countryside. Let’s see how that turns out! 😉

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