Return from the Windward Islands

Hel’s was closed in January while my husband and I finally went on a honeymoon. We sailed in the Windward Islands. It was not a food-focused excursion, it was learning-to-sail focused and the other people in the class were reluctant to abandon the ship so we could learn how to cook Caribbean cuisine instead of how to trim a mainsail. Perhaps if I’d been a better sailing student I could have taken a leadership position in the class and prevailed on the cuisine issue, but alas no (have you ever tried to learn to sail? the vocabulary list is several hundred words long and you’re supposed to always know which way the wind is blowing, which is harder than it sounds).

 

In spite of adversity, I did manage to explore the food and picked up some good ideas and recipes, which will all soon find their way into a blog post featuring the food of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In the meantime here are some tips I picked up during the trip that are not from St. Vincent, but may be of interest:

 

From France: The French 75 has usurped the Manhattan as my perfect cocktail. It’s Champagne and gin, with a touch of lemon and a hint of sugar. The gin opens the Champagne in a delightful way that suggests the idea of flowers - daphnes, perhaps, or stocks*. It’s the perfect cocktail because, unlike the Manhattan, it’s delicious any time of day. You might be drunk before breakfast, but it’s a genteel sort of drunk, very civilized. I enjoyed my French 75s  at a bar with creative cocktails that often employed Champagne, The Loft, on Union Island. Here’s a recipe from Esquire.

 

*No, these flowers are not edible, I’m being poetic** - do not eat random flowers, they’re usually poisonous.

 

**Because flavor is made up primarily of scent, it’s scientifically acceptable to be poetic about flowers and Champagne.

 

From Barbados: Friday nights are Fish Fry Nights in Oistins, a section of Barbados on the southern coast near the capital Bridgetown. Fish Fry Night is never to be confused with Pudding and Souse Lunch, which is Saturday, or Karaoke Afternoon which (according to one mini cab driver) is Sunday. The Oistins Fish Fry takes place along a stretch of cheek by jowl food shacks, extending from the sidewalk to the beach, with grills outside and fry oil heated over charcoal fires. It’s a nighttime country-fair-heading-to-rowdy atmosphere, full of noise and people bumping into each other as they take in the crowd, and fish shack equivalents of carnies calling in customers, and people not asking whether there is a health code for the fish cake fryers because nobody wants to know.   

 

The main event is grilled fish. Central Vermont does not offer an ocean a few yards from my grill, and if it did I doubt it would be teeming with the marlin, flying fish, or dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) we enjoyed in Barbados. Or maybe, being a fantasy seaside, it would. In any event, my practical take away from Oistins is the fish cakes. They’re made with salt cod, worked into a dough with seasoning, then deep fried to a texture that combines the crust of a fresh-from-the-fryer cider doughnut with the toothsome heart of fried dough. God they’re good. In Trinidad they’re called accras and in Portugal they’re bolinhos de bacalhau. I have not tested any of the online recipes, but if you want to get a head start on it, here’s where I intend to begin - the simple approach published on 196Flavors.

 

From Haiti: During the Mount Gay Rum distillery tour, we shared an hour of rum samples chased by a half dozen (shared) rum cocktails with a couple, she from Haiti, he from Ireland. Each felt that their respective cuisines were the best, most misunderstood, cuisines in the world. To remedy this on the Haitian side, I received the following recommendations written on a Mount Gay Rum coaster:

 

  • Eat at the Haitian restaurants in Montreal. These must be a big deal because the mere fact that the much-anticipated Haitian restaurant Agrikol would open in 2016 led one blog to run a list of other places to get your Haitian food fix while you waited.
  • Acquire the djon-djon mushroom, make a broth, use said broth to cook rice, or chicken, or really anything you can cook in a broth. According to Chowhound the Caribbean markets of Boston carry these dried mushrooms, or you can get a bouillon cube from the Maggi brand online (presumably that’s not as good as finding the mushrooms).
  • Brew Haitian coffee - Rebo is the primary export brand. Thanks to the Internet, I now know that the question of how to get more Americans to comprehend that Haiti has the best coffee in the world is A Thing, complete with economists and graphs, and you can read a Medium article about it right here: “Selling Haitian Coffee to American Hipsters
  •  

She also said that the Haitian rum, Barbancourt, is the world’s best but 1.) everyone said that about their island’s rum and 2.) by that point in the tour we had pretty much established that the Mount Gay 1703 rum is actually the world’s best rum, so let’s not get too carried away.