Two weeks ago I sat with my surrogate mummy for a catch up lunch. Our lunch spread comprised of sushi for me, a gourmet burger for her and two glasses of special lemonade (more on that later). We discussed the difficulties faced by Caribbean writers to build an authentic Caribbean in their novels. There are certain things which are easily associated with the Caribbean such as beaches, sunshine, Bob Marley and exotic dishes and certain things which are, well, not easily associated with the Caribbean – sushi immediately springs to mind. Yet, there I was chopsticks in hand dipping my Rainbow Roll into my wasabi filled soy sauce complaining that my Caribbean experience might not be readily accepted or recognized as such.
“There’s nothing Antiguan about our lunch,” I laughed. My surrogate mummy suggested that perhaps the special lemonade we drank added a certain Caribbean flair to the lunch. That, I suppose, was a clever assumption but for the fact that each glass of lemonade was spiked with Vodka (in the Caribbean the liquor of choice is Rum).
Despite the assimilation of many different culinary delights from all over the world, there are still some dishes that are uniquely Caribbean. Here are a few of my favourites:
Fungi is one of Antigua’s main dishes made of cornmeal, okras, salt and water stirred on low fire until it reaches the desired consistency which is a bit firmer than mashed potatoes. I fully admit that the name is probably a turn off I can’t pretend that it doesn’t scarily seem like I’m talking about the plural of fungus.
The fungi is served with salt fish (that’s the orange portion of the plate) which is salted cod fish with tomato sauce, onions and spices. Salt fish is used quite a lot in the region and is a legacy of slavery. Because the codfish was so heavily salted it could withstand the journey and in addition to that it was very cheap. Every territory does it a bit differently – in St. Lucia for example the tomato sauce isn’t used.
Fungi is also served with steamed fish. I couldn’t find a photo of them together but the photo below is of fish steamed the Jamaican way. It is quite flavoured and extremely spicy. The red pepper is called a scotch bonnet pepper which is very, very hot. Okra is also used which makes it a bit slimy (something I admit some of my friends detest but I think it adds to the dish).
Another of my favourite dishes is called Ducana. It is made from sweet potatoes, coconut and raisins and is usually served with saltfish. You might think at first that the sweet and savory wouldn’t go together well but it does! It is boiled wrapped in banana leaves or if you are from the newer generation (and a bit more lazy) aluminum foil works splendidly.
Then there is Roti. Roti is predominantly a Trinidadian and Guyanese dish and reflects the indentured servants which flocked those countries after slavery was abolished to work on the plantations. It is curried meat (anything from chicken, mutton, shrimp, lamb to conch) and potatoes wrapped in Roti Skin which is almost like, but not quite, Naan Bread.